Old Dog, New Tricks?

I saw several Code Year tweets scroll through my feed over the last week of the year.  At some point I decided to check it out.  If you haven’t heard about it yet it is an initiative started by Codecademy.com to teach people how to program through weekly, free lessons.  I decided to sign up and see what I could learn.

After signing up I decided to do a little research on the site and found the following TechCrunch article.

Codecademy’s CodeYear Attracts 100,000 Aspiring Programmers In 48 Hours

While the article didn’t really tell me anything groundbreaking, I spotted a comment below the article that stopped me cold.

I think it’s a great idea.

But do not fool yourself: You will not be the next startup rockstar or the CTO of Facebook by completing these very basic coding lessons. It’s nice for technically uneducated people to understand some of concepts behind coding.

There is no shortcut to become a good coder. You will still need a few years of learning and a few years of practice to be able to write your own startup project code, scalable and reliable. If you’re 20, go for it. If you’re 30 – too late.

Better to spend some time to learn project management and team leading skills – and listen a lot to senior coders how they work and what work environment they expect. You will be way more valuable to your startup then. – Roberto Valerio

What got me was “If you’re 30 – too late.”  I am not sure if I agree with what he is saying or not but I see where he is coming from.  Programming is a learned skill just like anything else.  The best programmers are almost always the guys who live and breath it for years.  We have all heard stories about young programmers sleeping at their desks and working through the night to complete a programming job or some personal project.  Certainly you have to have a passion for coding, just like you have to have a passion for anything to be really good at it but, I am not sure that age is necessarily a barrier to entry.

I remember a lady who was well into her 30s or maybe even 40s going back to school to become a biologist while I was working on my undergraduate degree.  I didn’t think she was too old to learn chemistry back then and I don’t think anyone is too old to learn to program now.  The odds of someone at 36 learning to code, becoming good at it and creating the next Facebook are probably slim, but why tell someone not to do it?  It just seems wrong to me.  What I think he is saying is that someone is wasting their time trying to learn to code when they reach middle age and that they would have better prospects professionally working on the leadership skills of team management and project management.  He may have a point but that is no reason not to learn something.  In fact, I am a firm believer in the idea that the more you know the better.

We don’t really know the limits of the human mind and it should be pushed.  Personally, I am really looking forward to digging into something I have only casually looked at for years.  As I have said before, I seem to have a knack for working with hardware and administration, but I have always felt that I lacked a solid base in programming knowledge.  Even if programming is not to be my future profession, I still want to learn.  I am excited for the Code Year project and will be learning along with thousands of others.  Some, I hope, are as old as me!


Old Dog, New Tricks? — 1 Comment

  1. Dear Jeff,

    I did not realize my comment at TechCrunch made it into your blog. Just to clarify things: I am 38 and to master some of the tasks at my startup I do a lot of reading and learning every day. And I am a firm believer that constant learning about new things keep you motivated and agile at your job.

    Still, there are some skill sets that take years to master correctly. It would take me years to become a good doctor starting today. It would take me years to become a good mechanic. And yes, it would take me years to polish my old days programming skills to become a great coder again.

    I guess I was a little upset about CodeAcademy’s promotion: Sign into our service, follow our programming course and you will be the coding the new Facebook in no time. In 1999, this was probably true. Some lines of badly written code could make you a startup millionaire. Today, some lines of badly written code could compromise your whole startup.

    That’s why I leave the coding work to the experts of today. And I try to focus on things I got experienced in: Hiring, motivating and managing good developer teams, making sure I offer them any assistance they need to build great products. It’s a great help that I know some stuff about programming as well – and I guess CodeAcademy can be great for beginners to get a basic understanding. But I still believe that at some point you should focus your free time and resources on things you are already quite good at to make sure you become an expert in a few things, not an average in all things.

    Kind regards,


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