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Why you should learn how to write code

“The noblest pleasure is the joy of understanding.”

-Leonardo da Vinci


One of the skills that will guarantee job security is programming. Although many have difficulty understanding what programming encompasses, everyone understands why it is important. One only needs to look around and see what is happening.

In our current era of digitalization and interconnectivity, the need to process information becomes increasingly important. Current figures state that on a daily basis 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are produced [1]. This equals a height of 4 Eiffel towers of stacked Blu-ray disks. This information needs to be processed, stored, converted and sent. This is done via code written by programmers.

However, knowing how to write code is not only beneficial for programmers. In an interview, Steve Jobs once stated:

I think everybody in this country should learn how to program a computer because it teaches you how to think.”

I agree with this statement as long as it is meant as “to think in a specific manner”. Thinking in this manner teaches a new method of creativity and is vital to survive and thrive in this digital world.

The key is understanding the essence of programming. Programming is a method of viewing complex actions as a series of structured basic commandos. The programmer writes down some lines which say: ”copy this to there, send file, print output, etcetera”, which results in a program that e-mails a message. That is how we get from simple building blocks to a complex program.

The creative part of the job of the programmer is to deconstruct the complex action into simpler actions. Only then the code can be written. This way of thinking about actions or processes is the key to understand how programs work and therefore how the modern world works.

To clarify, let us try to think of an example. Suppose we would want to program a robot in getting a cup of coffee from a vending machine as a complex action. This robot can do everything we want, but only on a basic level like lifting his arms, raising his foot etc. In general only very basic actions.

Getting the coffee needs to be broken down into simpler actions. For instance the robot needs:

  • to get to the vending machine
  • to know how to operate the machine
  • to get back to hand over the coffee.

But this is not basic enough. Let us take routine number one “get to the vending machine”. This requires several other actions like;

  • determine the robots position in relation to the vending machine
  • determine the best path towards the vending machine
  • start walking


Again this can be broken down until we get to the command level.

The process of systematically breaking down a complex process into its smaller basic components is the main task of a programmer. It constitutes the thinking part of programming to which Steve Jobs referred.

This is no longer simply a skill, but encompasses a way of thinking. Seeing the world consisting of small components forming the complex bigger things. It is therefore a way to enhance your understanding and this can never be a bad thing.


[1] M. Dewhurst et al., Next-generation global organizations, McKinsey & Company, 2012


Wouter Mertens

Business Manager IT


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