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10 Common Misconceptions About Programming- Part I

This article is Part One of a two part series! Click here for Part Two!

Once upon a time I used to believe some of these things…

It is important to bash these misconceptions fast and get started on learning how to code. Don’t let a few misleading ideas keep you from learning a new skill which is fast becoming the most important skill of the century. Don’t put off working on your minimum viable product for that world-changing idea that’s been in your head for months or even years. The idea came to you for a reason. Embrace this and keep reading.

1. “Programming is boring.”

People who think programming is boring just need one antidote to remove this misconception. Build a program. Spend a little bit of time to learn a tiny bit of code, build a working program, and run it. Boredom is the last thing on the mind of a person who just gave birth to a new creation. Programming literally takes syntax and turns it into a functioning world. How can that be boring? This is related to my next misconception- that programming is not a creative skill, but we’ll get to that in a second.

I am glad to have a foundation in architecture and the arts before approaching the world of programming. I see the whole world of computer science through my architect/artist eyes and it never ceases to amaze and surprise me. For me, the act of programming is like taking part in a huge social experiment of creation. In this sense, anyone who is not a part of it is missing out! As an artist, I see so many philosophical ramifications regarding humanity, the role of language for society, and the role of programming languages on a deeper level.

If I really think deeply about it, it hits me on a personal level- this misconception- because I was a victim of this limited thinking as well. I went to a very technical high school full of nerds who went on to Harvard and Stanford and took AP Computer Science courses and Visual Basic starting from their freshman year, and yet, seeing all this, I was not swayed. I did not see how typing some computer code into a text editor could possibly be fun. I wanted to draw, paint, build buildings. Perhaps it was “boring by association.” The kids who liked to program seemed boring so I associated one with the other. It was a huge mistake, and they were by no means even close to boring. Now that’s a misconception.

2. “Programming is a non-creative field.”

This is absolute nonsense. The world has changed more profoundly in the last fifteen years than it has ever changed in the past because of the computer and because of applications and software built by those very “non-creative” programmers. They had the vision to sculpt the world as we know it into something completely new, and they did it with everyone laughing in their faces. “What the heck is email?” We said.

The point is that it is sometimes difficult to see how programming is creative, especially when the programmers we know are solving maintenance problems of paradigms that have already been shifted. But who is going to create the next paradigm shift? In order to create a paradigm shift, a person (whether it is an artist or a scientist or even a programmer) must have the creative ability to see something where not many others can see it. This is called vision and it requires creativity and a connection to the unknown ether of muses out there.

Now that non-techies are getting into the action of programming, with our artistic, humanities focused backgrounds, how much more might we be able to wield the creative power of knowing how to program?

Every game, every application- is the brainchild of some programmer who was feeling very creative on the day he or she wrote the code. That’s the bigger scale of it. On the smaller end of the scale, even when you are solving the most mundane problem your brain is busting out creative solutions from the tools in your programming arsenal.

A programmer experiences full creative flow when he or she is coding- just like a painter or a writer might be in the zone, connected to the ether of inspiration. It’s just like being an artist but using a different medium- in this case syntax and framework.

The best artwork comes from artists who recognize that there are a set of rules in their trade- the tools and their medium. They challenge those tools and limits by having a dialogue with them. In this way, the fact that a coder is limited to programming languages and within a certain framework does not mean that they are not being creative. In my opinion, the best creative work comes from the artist who recognizes this. They can also create new tools: hence new programming languages are created all the time.

3. “Programming is too difficult.”

This one is a misconception but I also get it. I get that the learning curve might be steep for some languages and some specific concepts. However, when is learning something new NOT difficult? Have you ever tried to learn how to play an instrument as an adult? Or learn German at the age of 30? Learn how to draw for the first time?

Learning something new is supposed to be a bit difficult at first, and therefore someone learning programming for the first time might give up and blame it on programming as being difficult, instead of sticking with it and giving it a second chance. Just because programming is technical and requires some thinking, doesn’t make it more difficult than learning how to ride a bicycle for the first time.

Therefore I deduce that it is not programming that is difficult, but learning something new that is difficult.

Learning to program, like anything else, requires discipline and persistence and a hands-on approach.

Don’t forget, some programming languages have a steeper learning curve than others, and some give you more results faster than others, with more built-in tools. Maybe you’re just approaching it from the wrong angle, or maybe you need to hear multiple versions of the same lesson from different teachers in order to “get it.” It’s all possible. Give yourself a break.

Enjoy the learning process. So don’t sweat it if it’s been a difficult journey starting. Before you can master a skill, you need to have the beginner’s mindset for a very long time. And that doesn’t mean you can’t get results fast either. You can if you want them.

4. “Programming requires a full college education.”

This one is the one that personally pisses me off the most. Why? Because I almost fell for this one too! At a critical fork in the road for my start-up team, I had the choice of applying to an Ivy-League program in order to get real degree in computer science and programming. (Even though I already have a degree in architecture!)This is the kind of thinking that blocks you from achieving results!

Not only would I have accumulated a heap of grad-school debt, but it wouldn’t have done me or my start-up much good. I needed to program in order to build my start-up, but the way computer science is traditionally taught in schools would have put a huge hold on my personal project.

If you went through college in order to learn how to program, of course you would have received a strong foundational understanding of the field. However, the actual amount of time spent coding and trying it out for yourself is the real test. You don’t need to spread that out between a lot of lectures and other classes. (I don’t discredit the importance of a strong humanities education either, but I believe this can also be gotten in unconventional ways too… and that’s for a different blog.)

More important than my above argument, however, is that there are so many entrepreneurs out there who have made it big and created world-changing tech products- without the full college education. Besides the fact that it is highly overrated, and creates a chain of debt around your ankles after graduation, there are so many free and cheap tools out there for the everyday Jane or Joe to teach themselves how to program!

If you want to do something, create something, change the world, don’t wait 4, 5, 6 years to finish college to do it, just start. And if you already have a degree in something other than computers, don’t worry. It will only benefit you to have those foundations.

Teach yourself to code- you know how education works deep inside yourself. It doesn’t require a lecturer to sit in front of or a list of required reading.

You can put those things together yourself and with a little curiosity, discipline and persistence, you can create a whole “college level” curriculum of coding that is condensed into 1/8th of the time required to receive that degree. Oh, and don’t get me started on business school!

5. “Programming is a highly specialized skill.”

It may seem like the act of typing very specific code into highly technical text editors to solve very specific, mostly computer related problems is a specialization in terms of skill and field, but it is not. Let me explain…

This misconception is connected to a few other misconceptions described in Part Two about what programming is and what it is not, but I digress. Programming is not a highly specialized technical skill in my humble opinion. The more I am learning about it, and learning the foundations of computer science, as well as diving directly into learning how to code in specific languages, the more I see the same concepts and ideas popping up time and again.

These foundations are teaching me a way of thinking and viewing the world, and a way of problem solving that seems to spread beyond just the computer screen.

To me, programming is the opposite of learning a specialized skill. It teaches you how to think and how to solve a problem within a set of tools given to you which you need to use creatively.

This ability gives you the chance to approach the rest of the world with a different eye. My first “skill” that I’ve acquired and focused on was architecture. In a sense, learning architecture and learning programming is related in my mind.

In architecture, you need to learn a little bit of everything from physics of structures to human psychology to history to music and art, in order to become a well-rounded humanistic architect.

However, getting that accredited degree in architecture means that you have this highly technical skill of being able to put a building together.

In this way, learning to program results in the technical skill of being able to build computer programs, but the value gained from thinking in a certain way and understanding how languages work and interact with each other- now that just seems like a fundamental understanding of human nature to me.

And that, my friends, is the opposite of specialization: the ability to understand fundamental truths.

Click here for Part Two!

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Jesicka Labud

Jesicka is a writer, Co-Founder of Tipabl, world-traveler, and loving wife. Her two cats follow her wherever she goes in the world! She's put on hold her past life as a project manager and architect in order to pursue of dream of living life on her own terms while learning how to program.

20 thoughts on “10 Common Misconceptions About Programming- Part I

  1. Sean

    1. somewhat disagree: programming is boring – sometimes. if you only do it occasionally for fun, it’ll obviously be mostly fun. if you must use it to complete a project, then it’s like any other tool, sometimes it’s tedious. if it’s a career, it’s not always super-the-most-fun-ever.

    4. programming requires the ability to focus for long periods, and the ability to abstract ideas. if you get that in college, great, some do not. my 2c.

    5. nitpick: programming is specialized, it’s a different kind of reading/writing literacy. it’s not unlearnable, but if you don’t know how to read, is reading “specialized”?

    6. high and low level languages are easier or harder to learn depending on what you’re doing. if you are making a game, don’t learn assembler. if you’re writing a device driver, don’t do it in java.

    7. oh snap, smackin down the web programmers! 😉 yeah, html and css aren’t, but javascript is.

    yup, agree with the rest. 🙂

    Reply
    1. Jesicka Labud

      Sean! Love your feedback! Thanks so much for giving us your hacker point of view~ it’s great. I guess everything can get tedious once in a while, especially when you need to complete a project. I love how you said it’s not always super-the-most-fun-everrrr. And yes, you can nitpick! I am glad you did… and yeah, #7 was a bit of a difficult one… at the expense of web programmers… but you agree so. Yup.

      Reply
  2. Katherine Harms

    Many years ago I loved programming. I have used a variety of languages. I have programmed for small home computers and big mainframes. I did it. I liked it. And now I don’t want to do that any more.
    However, I agree with most of your observations. The truth is that any normal person can learn to program if that is his objective. Or he can learn French.
    The longer I live, the more I realize how much there is to learn in the world and how little of it we actually learn. I find that my real happiness develops when I learn something that moves me forward toward my dream. When programming served that purpose, I learned to do it.
    Interestingly, programming really is a language skill, but I like human language and human thoughts more. I like abstraction and imagination and a moral structure. So, I have returned to my first loves — writing, reading, arguing ideas, and helping other people express themselves more effectively.
    You might say that you and I passed one another on life’s highway, headed in opposite directions, bound for very different destinations, but with more in common than might be apparent from a snapshot of us waving as we move apart.

    Reply
    1. Jesicka Labud Post author

      Katherine, you are full of surprises! That’s just fantastic that you used to code. And I really love your analogy of “life’s highway”! Wow, this is a beautiful idea- you and I passed one another in exact opposite directions- and this makes us have more in common than not- and yes! We wave to each other. Beautiful!

      Your comment here is profound in so many ways- yes, we have so much to learn… and yet, do we need to learn everything? Not really. You’re right- it needs to be something that brings you closer to your happiness- whatever that may be. One thing you said is interesting to me: you like human languages and human thoughts- programming may be closer to that than we think! After all, humans created the computer. It came from somewhere deep inside of us. Food for thought.

      Reply
  3. erica

    I can appreciate your passion for coding and your eloquence in describing it.
    I’m blown away by how fast the tech world has advanced since my grade 10 computer science class… if it weren’t for financial issues I never would have had the courage or motivation to design my own website (twice), which definitely required some coding along the way!
    There were moments of utter desperation, sheer frustration and days upon days were stolen… however, I got there in the end, and I feel like Christopher Columbus after conquering new land.
    I am so proud of myself and look at how much I’ve grown over the past 5 months by sticking with it and not giving up.
    I have newfound respect and appreciation for developers/coders, etc. and their impact on the world as we know it. I know it is not something I could do day-in, day-out, but I suppose if I continued to work on my skill-set it would become easier, and as a result, more fun?
    I certainly love problem solving and the thrill that comes with it… and I agree, it’s not that coding is too difficult, it’s that learning anything becomes more difficult as we get older!
    Yet science shows learning new skills continues to keep our neurons firing and creating new paths, which ultimately wards off mental decline… keep up the great work and you’ll be the sharpest knife in the drawer by the time you’re 90 🙂

    Reply
    1. Jesicka Labud Post author

      Erica! It’s so great to see you here. I am glad you enjoyed the article. Your description of conquering a new land is definitely how I felt when I made my first silly little website. I still felt good! And good for you in coding your own website twice. That takes a lot of perseverance. It’s definitely a new type of challenge for sure. For me, the problem solving part is the most exciting right now. And this is not easy- which is why I also have a healthy respect for developers out there.

      Reply
  4. Michael Durek

    Wow, this about answers every issue I had with comp sci Data Structures in college! The high from solving a problem in comp sci is huge though. Maybe a second career after reading your post 🙂

    Reply
    1. Jesicka Labud Post author

      Hey Michael! Go for it! Second career? No problem. It’s nice to inspire someone to think about that. Whatever issue you had in your Data Structures class I am sure can be resolved in either 1. finding a better teacher or 2. learning the right language for your application. Yes, it can be hard to feel engaged when learning about this stuff if you’re not immediately using it to build something. Application is key!

      Reply
  5. Renee

    Challenging the status quo is part of the art and technology industries. Pointing out some misconceptions/assumptions benefits the cause. Good work!

    Reply
    1. Jesicka Labud Post author

      Renee, right on! Absolutely true. Tech and the art world should always be “disrupting” the status quo. Let’s hope it continues to do this! I guess it’s all up to us techies, non-techies, and creatives to keep this going. Thanks for the praise.

      Reply
  6. Michael Knouse

    Great post Jesicka! I learn so much from you. Thanks for dispelling some of the misconceptions about programming. I seriously would have never even given it a thought to consider learning how to program. I thought your insight about programming being a creative skill is excellent. It is very much turning the intangible into the tangible. It’s art just like how a writer starts with a blank piece of paper or a painter starts with an empty canvas. It’s taking your idea and making something out of nothing. The artist, in this case, is a programmer using a language and code to wield their creation and maybe even solve a problem. After reading this I have an even deeper respect for my web developer as both a technical genius as well as an artist. He will be happy that I took the time to read this! 🙂

    Reply
    1. Jesicka Labud Post author

      Hey Michael! Your comment makes me so happy! I am at your service. Also happy to hear that this article did what it was supposed to do: inspire you to maybe learn something about coding, develop a deeper understanding of what developers do, and have a deeper respect for your friendly neighborhood tech guru! And yes, I see everything as an act of creation because of my background as an architect. Love seeing you here!

      Reply
  7. Paula

    Hey, you make everything sound so wonderful and not boring! Everything is art in my book even programming. It’s not different to having your own child! (maybe that’s why i don’t have one!) but it’s what makes you feel alive and proud then how can that ever be dull? I haven’t tried it but I hope to one day, i love to learn so anything new is always a great challenge for me. I never thought i’d be able to set up my website but i did! Thanks for the reminder – this is awesome 🙂

    Reply
    1. Jesicka Labud Post author

      “Everything is art in my book”- It’s true! This is how I think too- but I also have a variation on that “everything is architecture!” Glad to make this all sound not boring to you. Congrats on setting up your own website. I know it’s a challenge for a non-techie! When I set mine up I was still a very very non techie, so everything went over my head and I had to go real slow. Haha. Come to think of it, I am still very much like that. Hoping that changes with building more and more sites and apps. Thanks for stopping by Paula!

      Reply
  8. Tom

    Jesicka – great insights here.

    I tried learning to code in 5th grade by buying a 500 page C++ book and teaching myself. I got to the second chapter and called it quits.

    While I would have always liked to learn to code so I could create my own stuff, I’ve also realized that I can hire and manage coders to create my vision…a much different and difficult task in it’s own right.

    At the end of the day, everything’s an opportunity cost. I definitely encourage younger kids to learn to code, but I realize I’m more effective as a founder learning how to lead and manage than learning the discipline itself.

    Still – great stuff!

    Reply
    1. Jesicka Labud Post author

      Hey Tom! Nice to see you here. You’re absolutely right! You can and should hire/outsource when you are able to do it. I am glad you’ve found a way to make it work well, and are happy with the role you play!

      For me, I also thought this for about 2 years- looking for a technical co-founder for my start-up idea. I just wanted someone to build it for me. And since it wasn’t simply a website idea but more of a web-application, I needed a coder. A really technical co-founder “soul-mate” business partner. It took me 2 years to realize that this wasn’t going to happen unless I coded it myself, which is why I made the decision to learn and do it myself. I do love getting into the craft of coding, maybe it’s my architecture background that makes me enjoy building things so much. But it’s not for everyone, you’re right about that.

      Reply
  9. Michaela Cristallo

    I loved this Jesicka! I actually hold many of these misconceptions myself so it was fascinating to read through this post and see it from another perspective. Interestingly my boyfriend was programming in the background as I was reading this and when I told him about the article he said ‘does it say programming is difficult?’. He’s in the middle of ‘Programming 1’ right at the start of his Computer Science degree. I’m going to send him this 🙂

    Reply
    1. Jesicka Labud Post author

      Hey Michaela, I’d definitely be interested to hear your boyfriend’s point of view as he is in the midst of learning and doing it! Glad this article gave you some insights you did not have before. That’s my goal, and hearing this makes my day.

      Reply
  10. Wendy

    Oh my gosh maybe it’s the point of life I’m in at the moment, but in the introduction the biggest part that spoke to me was “Don’t put off working on your minimum viable product for that world-changing idea that’s been in your head for months or even years. The idea came to you for a reason. Embrace this and keep reading” so I am motivated to go back into my ideas and crank out an offering!!!!

    About the rest of the article: I have learned programming in the past, and still use it (though I am not considered an official “programmer” in my day job) and I agree that it teaches you skills beyond what you would think.

    It’s not just about programming. It teaches your brain a new way of thinking, just like math and music does. It also helps you in future technology endeavors even if you don’t continue programming because it helps with a fundamental understanding of how computers work!!!

    Which we all deal with every day. I can tell a really obvious difference between the way I understand computers, versus the way non-programmers understand computers. From the way everything displays on the screen to the functionality of your email programs. It doesn’t matter if it’s complicated like a video game or simple like a task list, I now know how to look for and use everything better than non-programmers.

    I believe programming is something everyone should learn, like English and Math. Communicating with computers is so prevalent these days…. And it affects how we communicate with other human beings!!!

    Reply
    1. Jesicka Labud Post author

      Hey Wendy! I am so happy this article inspired you to go and continue working on your minimum viable product. That’s what it’s all about!! Yeah isn’t it awesome how programming opens your mind about so many topics – not just computer related? Problem solving and critical thinking.. and logic. I love it!
      It’s very interesting to hear your thoughts about how you can tell the difference between your understanding of computers and how it is fundamentally different from non-coders. I appreciate that. As a non-techie who is learning, I am beginning to see the computer and tech world differently and I know it’s a growth/change from how I thought about these things in the past!

      Reply

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