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The learning myth: why everyone can learn to code

A lot of people are talking about how we need more women coders to break into the culture of ‘brogrammers’. One of the single biggest issues with the lack of diversity in STEM is the myth of learned and innate skills.

As a child growing up I became indoctrinated with this belief that some people are born with the types of brains that mean they are good with numbers, good at building things, good at writing, coding, and so on.

Natural strengths

To some extent this is very true. Everyone has natural strengths in particular areas, so if you’re going to make a living at doing something, you want to pick something you are very good at and can easily stick at for 8 hours a day or more.

I’ve picked blogging.

Happily, you can get paid for freelance blogging, since it’s a lot harder than it looks, especially with all the marketing and networking involved. Luckily, I’m alright at those other things too.

However, just because you excel in some areas does not mean that your brain is defunct in others.

No baby is born just magically knowing how to play the piano or kick a football. He or she learns over many repetitions – by practising, essentially.

How to be good at stuff

To excel at a skill, you need to have applied yourself consistently during practice, but also to have some natural flair innate within you that means you can quickly and intelligently make progress.

For example, as a writer, I spend hours and hours literally writing, and also reading – perfecting my craft. Other people who aren’t writers don’t spend all this time writing.

I also naturally remember lots of words and their meanings, can easily recall words to mind and connect them with similar words. I have a sensitivity to the particular feelings that different words will create. I can easily perceive the structure of a piece, and reproduce it again.

This is not a boast, but just a breakdown of why I love writing so much, and how I have become good enough at it to become employed as a freelance writer.

To me, writing doesn’t feel like work (don’t tell my clients).

Creating learning barriers

I’ve noticed is that as soon as you turn something into an acronym and make it unfamiliar, or we start straying into the abstract, people lose their confidence in their ability to learn.

Just try using the words SEO… Javascript… Algorithms… CMS… Boolean Logic… And watch most people run away.

It’s terrifying! It’s especially intimidating if you’ve been told all your life that your brain is weaker than 50% of the population, purely through accident of birth and a cocktail of hormones.

Everyone gets intimidated by the unfamiliar, but not everyone lives in the fiction that areas of public knowledge are inaccessible to them.

If you get told over and over that you can’t do something, by the ever-powerful news media, films, books and TV in popular culture, even people you know in real life, then a lens is created for you that narrows your world.

Even if you might have been interested in learning something, you’ll be put off (perhaps unconsciously) and plump for learning only the things you believe are accessible to you. The deck has been stacked against you.

Coding is accessible to all

I read somewhere on the internet the other day that we shouldn’t say coding isn’t hard, because that’s a lie. But I don’t think I have ever heard anyone say coding is easy… merely that it is possible.

Programmers are smart, very smart, because they’re amazing at what they do.

But just as I wouldn’t encourage everyone to become a professional writer if that’s not their skillset, so I apply the same to coding.

Almost everyone can learn to write to some degree, and similarly everyone can learn to code. And that’s how we have to make the distinction when we are unpicking the learning myth.

Some become developers

Some people will learn to code, and then move on to other pastures, but with an increased sense of confidence that they can access a whole new world they previously thought was closed to them, or didn’t even know existed. They will have a deeper understanding of the learning process, and how self-sabotage is the biggest obstacle to development.

A minority of people will find a new love, a viable career path, or perhaps a calling. Though they will be few, spreading the message will have been so worth it.

What are you waiting for? Find out how you can start learning to code for free in the UK

Image: Unsplash, Christopher Sardegna

About the author

Catherine Heath

I’m a B2B freelance tech blogger and content writer. I have a thing for psychology, diversity, tech and startups. Learning to code.

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