When you read this article it may stir up nostalgic memories of Terminator 2: Judgement Day and Skynet. It may even fuel Elon Musk’s everlasting paranoia about how AI may one day overthrow the human race. Whatever ends up happening, we think it’s super-cool that Google has created something that optimizes its existing code without human interference. AutoML now “produces better code than its programmers” and is “designed to be a solution to the problem of the lack of machine learning talent.” In a few hours it can accomplish what takes a human weeks to do.

Whether you believe automation will eliminate jobs or create more, you have to be excited by what the future holds in the world of AI. Google of course is leading the way in automatic machine learning AI which some coders may pause and ask “Why should I even bother to learn how to code if machines can do it for me?” The answer is simply that someone has to build the programs that engage in this level of machine learning and AI. There will be a shortage of people who understand how AI and machine learning works for a very long time which means demand should sky rocket. As a coder, you can be a part of the next generation of coders that does this, improving the world in ways never thought imaginable.

As coding solves these problems it will free up time for people to take on others. As people, we are problem solving entities and coding is a part of our tool chest to make this happen. Have you ever felt like there isn’t enough time in the day to do everything? Well, we can create more time so we can do more of the stuff we enjoying doing instead of wasting it on mundane tasks.

When you’re studying to become a doctor, you have to memorize a lot – bones, symptoms, medications, you name it.  When you’re studying law, it’s the same thing, legal precedents, past cases, and what all those latin words mean!

But what happens when you’re a coder?  Despite what many think, you memorize very little.  There’s a bit of a myth out there that learning to code is about learning the words of a language, that as a coder you need remember what all the commands do.

How many kids have told me “I’ve memorized every command in Scratch, so I know the language”.  News flash – you don’t!  I remember I was teaching a high schooler Java, and at the moment I forgot the command to print some text.  Flabbergasted, my student said “You don’t know system.out.println?  I thought you knew how to code!!”.

Ah, kids, right?  The fact is that coding isn’t about knowing the commands – it’s about the ability to think through the logic and recognizing (and re-using) patterns of logic.  It’s about how to put the commands together.  Sure, I didn’t remember the command to print something in Java, but I sure knew how to put the rest of the program together, and I found out what the command was 2 seconds later through my buddy Google.  And thusly, I saved face with that student!  =).

The moral of the story here, the commands themselves are actually unimportant, mostly because they can be found on the internet…  But also because while coding languages have their own syntax of commands, the underlying logic of how the commands interact is the same in any language.  THAT is what makes a good coder – the logic.  Even back in my day before the world of internet I wouldn’t remember my commands, and just use my reference books and sheets (granted, I did remember more commands because hey, it’s not easy using reference books!).

And that’s exactly why at theCoderSchool, we’re language-agnostic and really believe that a language is a tool to learn what’s most important – the logical thinking skills, applicable to any language, and any career.

Myth busted!

Learning to code isn’t always easy but it’s worth it and very rewarding. Most people seem to think you have to be a genius to learn how to code but that isn’t true. It’s a never ending learning process and most beginning programmers go through the same bumps in the road along the way.

Some of the biggest hurdles we see our students run into are the following:

Which language to learn

It’s not about the language but the logic behind it. Start with one and stick to it until you’ve learned to think like a programmer.  Often the drag ‘n drop languages like Scratch or Snap! may seem to basic and easy, but it’s an amazingly effective way to learn fundamental logic.  Generate prime numbers, make a hangman game, even the old standard of Flappy Bird – these all help solidify the basics of logical thinking while making something interesting.

Beating yourself up

We all go through the same cycles of boredom, excitement, anxiety, frustration and relief. Beating yourself up will only add to your anxiety and prevent you from solving the problem. You need a cool head and an inner voice that cheers you on, not tears you down.  Sit with someone passionate who can show you technology, and do stuff that interests you and you’ll be learning in no time.

Rushing through the process

 theCoderSchool's Coder Tree

Programming is a process. Skipping steps will lead to bugs and missing key concepts. Take your time and learn to think through each step.  Take a look at our Coder Tree – it’s super important to learn the fundamental roots of programming before getting into advanced material.  You wouldn’t train to be a brain surgeon before knowing how the body works right?  Same thing with coding, you can’t start learning Artificial Intelligence and 3D Gaming until you have a good grasp of logic.

Debugging

Writing code and designing software is only part of the process. You’ll need to learn how to debug it if it doesn’t work. Lots of people get frustrated here but it’s a skill set you have to learn improve upon over time.  This is a lesson to learn in persistence, but nothing gives you that instant satisfaction like when you solved a bug and the program suddenly works.  It’s that awesome WOW and High Five moment!

If you’d like to learn more about common issues programmers face check out these helpful articles.

Learning and Improving your Debugging Skills

8 Barriers to Overcome Learning Code

5 Most Common Problems Programmers Have

I found this great video from Google explaining how human bias can influence artificial intelligence (and a quick primer on how AI works).  Basically, it comes down to this.  As artificial as artificial intelligence may be, it’s still created by human programmers – humans who each have their own biases.  And that bias can subconsciously influence the code being written to reflect the coders’ own biases.

Let’s say James Damore (the Google engineer fired for his memo claiming men are better suited to be in tech than women – old news, I know) rounds up a bunch of his friends who feel the same way, and they create a successful AI bot.  Could that bot default to thinking that women are less important than men in tech?  If it was a chatbot and you asked it “what makes a good coder”, would it come back and say “a man”?!   Is that so far-fetched?  Damore was an engineer at Google (who does build a lot of AI), and no one really knew of his bias until his memo.  And without said memo, Damore could well be still working at Google building whatever it is he was building (side note – no idea whether Damore was involved in AI at Google).

I won’t say that’s a likely scenario by any means – just a good thought exercise.  Google and Facebook have done a lot to tamp down the fake news, the hate, the negative stuff that might influence us (and AI).  But when so many negative events like the Charlottesville violence or the Barcelona terror attacks seem to be happening more often, sometimes you just have to wonder, how will Skynet interpret it?  That humans are divisive and hateful?  Or that we we unite with love when we respond to these events?  Are we going to get the the bad Arnold from Terminator 1, or the good Arnold from Terminator 2?

While most people are familiar with bitcoin, not many people fully understand Ethereum just yet and consider it a cryptocurrency but it’s way more than that.

Ethereum is a “decentralized platform that runs smart contracts: applications that run exactly as programmed without any possibility of downtime, censorship, fraud or third party interference.”-Ethereum.org.

In other words, it’s a software platform where you can build distributed applications and smart contracts. Because it’s open-ended and decentralized nature, these applications can be built without any downtime, control, fraud or interference from third parties.

The currency used on ethereum is “ether” and is sought after by developers who are interested in building applications on the platform. While it can be traded, it’s primary purpose is to run applications and monetize work.

According to Ethereum, it can be used to “codify, decentralize, secure and trade just about anything.” While still in it’s early stages (it launched in 2014), there is already a lot of excitement with how it can be used to change the world. Apps (called DAPPS) run on blockchain which allows the movement of value and the verification of property. Developers can create their own markets, business registries, promissory notes, and move funds using “smart contracts” which execute once terms are met.

You can use a similar language to Python on Ethereum to write contracts called Serpent. The language is intended to be clean, simple and easy to use which are all the things that make Python such a great introductory language.

Learn more about Ethereum here

Antsy to teach your kids Javascript?  Take a look at our article posted in D-Zone!

E-mail is one of the very first and most popular applications that emerged from the early days of the internet. We still utilize it to this day and for good reason. It makes our lives easier and more efficient in ways we never really thought it would be. While it hasn’t completely replaced regular mail, it’s arguably much more important.

As mentioned in a previous article, cryptocurrency is just one application for the amazing applications that can be created on blockchain but it isn’t the only. Blockchain is in the position to disrupt major industries around the world. For example, “In September 2016, Barclays carried out the world’s first trade transaction using blockchain. They cut a process that normally takes 7–10 days down to less than four hours.”

IBM is working with the government of Dubai to develop smart contracts that can facilitate all trade that passes through its port. This is huge, given $344 billion worth of goods passed through the port in 2016. Dubai’s government said it plans to shift all transactions to blockchain by 2020.”

Below, we have listed some of the other industries that blockchain could quickly turn on its head.

  • Financial Blockchain offers a “secure, decentralized, tamper-proof ledger” at much less of a cost than what banks currently use to keep track of records and transactions.
  • Voting Blockchain can keep better track of votes and voter identity rendering fraudulent activity ineffective
  • Music Artists can earn royalties themselves without having to go through a record label
  • Real Estate When buying a house there are an incredible amount of paperwork to deal with. An app can cut down time and increase accuracy of the records on hand.
  • Personal Data Blockchain will allow you to control who sees your personal data and better all-around verification.

Learn more about how you can use blockchain to change the world here. You can get a head start on this new technology by learning to think like a software engineer with our after school programs.

Everyone is talking about Bitcoin or Blockchain but what is it? The best analogy I’ve read is from Sally Davies, FT Technology Reporter who said “[Blockchain] is to Bitcoin, what the internet is to email. A big electronic system, on top of which you can build applications. Currency is just one.”

The idea of Blockchain revolves around “decentralization” instead of one entity owning everything or a single point of failure,. At the very least, it will change the way we handle transactions but the potential is much greater than that. More and more people are taking the time to learn about blockchain and how to develop on the platform. Just recently, a software development platform called “ethereum” was recently that utilizes a cryptocurrency called “ether” to incentivize development.

While cryptocurrency is the most popular thing we associate with blockchain, there is a wide range of interesting uses coming up. Below, I’ve listed some but you can read a nice beginner’s guide to blockchain on blockgeeks.com.

  • Smart Contracts
  • Governance
  • File Storage
  • Protecting Intellectual property
  • Internet of Things (IoT)
  • Identity management

So, as a programmer or coder why should you even care? Blockchain is said to have the potential to change the world in a better way like the internet did when it first came out. This aligns perfectly with our mantra “learn to code. Change the world.”

You can lay the foundation for becoming a blockchain developer by learning languages like Python. “Serpent” is a language on the Ethereum platform that is made to be similar to Python.

For more detailed info mixed in with some tech, here’s an amazing article that explains the technology behind blockchain and bitcoin (and a bit of history to boot!).

Sometimes what the students do at our school amazes me, but one app has always stuck out in my mind.  We have a 13yo student who I’ll call LN, who’s been with us since we opened.  When he was 11, he created this incredible app he calls Gravity Crash.  LN is a big fan of physics, and it happened that his Code Coach was too – and so some pretty amazing coding ensued.

LN’s game looks and plays like a standard billiards game (which in itself is already quite hard to code in Python).  But instead of hitting the cue ball, you create what he called “gravitational anomalies” (I guess he was a Start Trek TNG fan too!) that sucks the cue ball towards it (and orbits it, if placed correctly), using newtonian physics formulas.  What?!

Take a look here, and be sure to widen the game screen so you can see the entire billiard table.  You can also open Gravity Crash in a new window.

 Newton's Law of Universal Gravitation

Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation

 

So I want to point out that, even as a coder of 20 years, some of this would be mind-boggling for myself to write.  If you’re not a coder, just scroll through the code and you’ll be blown away.  If you’re a coder, check out how he handles collisions starting on line 171 (yep, granted, he needed some help on the vector and collision math!).  And if you’re a physicist, check out line 234, my favorite.  Break down the component parts, and [gasp!!], you have Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation.  Let me sum that up for you, an 11 yo coded a pretty complex game in Python, and then decided to use Newtonian formulas to simulate gravity.   Niiiiiiice.

Now mind you, in our model, we have a Code Coach, directly mentoring our students – so building the app wasn’t completely unaided.  Moving the balls, collisions, even just setting up the triangle, requires some really good math knowledge.   But LN, again, an 11yo, understands how most of the code works, and coded a large part of it.  Think about how much coding AND math experience he gained coding this app.  Mind.  Blown.

via GIPHY

 Learning to code, the fun way

Learning to code, the fun way

This article from Ben Tarnoff at the Guardian is one of the sillier articles I’ve read in a while, so I felt compelled to blog about it.  Tarnoff argues that code.org, an amazing organization whose mission is to get more kids coding, is actually an instrument of the tech industry to create a larger supply of future coders – thus reducing the average coders’ salaries, thus making the tech companies richer.  Um…  WHAT?!

The implication that there’s some conspiracy theory underneath teaching kids to code is laughable.  While yes, more kids coding is bound to mean more adults coding in the future, it feels irresponsible to state that corporate greed is behind this.  The real benefits of kids and coding have nothing to do with company profits, and everything to do with a more effective and smarter future generation.

So what is “coding”?  Coding is not about memorizing a language.  Coding isn’t even about knowing any kind of technology.  It’s about a way of thinking.  For kids, it’s not about “knowing Java” – after all, Java or whatever other language may well become extinct in 10 years, knowing how fast tech moves. Coding’s about teaching a mindset of procedural, logical deduction and problem solving. Coding provides a tangible (and dare I say fun!) way to learn logical problem solving skills.  Now let me ask you – in what careers might you need problem solving skills?  Every. Single. One.

Tarnoff also notes that the median salary for a CS/IT job is more than twice the national average.  I’m no economics expert, but doesn’t that mean there’s a much greater demand for that skill set than the average job?  That you’re more likely to get a job, a higher income job, as a coder?  I know there are folks out there who are coders, who may be having a tough time finding a job.  But like any other skill, there are good coders and bad coders.  Remember that just because you can code doesn’t guarantee you a job, you have to still be GOOD at it.  And as emerging tech like AI, autonomous cars, and cyber-security gain prominence, make no mistake, these require advanced coding skills.  These guys aren’t just coding a couple of loops with arrays, they are programming some insane algorithmic logic that furthers the advancement of our world.  And I can guarantee you that anyone who can code these technologies will always have a job.  A pretty high paying one, at that.  I doubt even Dr. Evil could spawn a conspiracy to mass-produce brilliant advanced coders – those guys will always be highly paid, highly sought after talent.

So is coding for kids a grand scheme by the tech elite to save money?  Not a chance.  Should every kid learn to code, so they understand tech better, and have essential skills for any career (including CS)?  Absolutely.  To his credit, the author notes that every kid should have the opportunity to learn to code, and understanding how code works is essential for digital literacy.  That, I can agree with.  The rest of the article?  Somewhere between silly and irresponsible.