How I’m Learning to Code (Part 1)

“Software is eating the world.” – Marc Andreesen (@pmarca)

This truth hit me slowly and then over and over and over. After I finished my MBA applications and was able to finally think about anything else, I read a piece on Marc Andreesen in The New Yorker. The article talks about how Andreesen sees the future and it illuminated how software is deeply influencing or fundamentally disrupting almost every industry. Fewer companies and people are capturing more of the economy through the exponential power of software. Example: Instagram sold to Facebook for one billion dollars with just 13 employees.

The world is being overthrown and built again by software companies. I’ve been in on this at Yodle, but not in the software side. The great tech CEOs now all have deep CS knowledge or are coders themselves and that will only be more true in the coming decades. The conclusion for me? Learn a lot more about CS and code.

My first instinct was to just jump in, which I did for an hour or so on Codecademy, a site where you can “learn to code interactively, for free.” That was wrong. It’s a great site and I’ll come back to it but, as I learned when I started golfing, it’s best to start at a super fundamental level to understand what you’re doing instead of grabbing clubs and going to the driving range. I learn better when I understand the big picture, so I started listening through The Innovators, a book on the history of and the teams behind computers and software, by Walter Isaacson, the author of Steve Jobs.

This was very important. It brought context to where software is at now and exposed the most important pillars on which computers and software are built. Microprocessors? Compilers? The book really helped me understand how we’ve arrived in the current environment.

About halfway through the book, a fortuitous Google search led me to Harvard’s CS50 through edX, a very popular class that serves as a perfect next step. The class (so far) has breezed through the history and only touched on it when explaining something, such as a compiler. But it has let me start coding through Scratch, a free resource created at MIT.

So that’s where I am now. After seeing the first crack in software’s illusion of magic, I see it everywhere. I no longer see a new email notification, I see the result of a series of zeroes and ones from a server that came to Google’s server which changed the information it is telling my browser to tell my computer to tell the screen. As stated in a really long but must-read article by Paul Ford titled What is Code?, “It’s amazing any of it works at all.”

More posts to come.

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Chris Cottrell

Chris Cottrell

Hi, I’m Chris, an MBA student at Georgetown. I write about business school, tech, and startups. Find me on Twitter.

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