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“Do you really think you can teach people to code in one day?!”

By Leah Elzinga

A very well-respected colleague recently asked me this. He’s an incredibly smart, accomplished guy. His opinion matters to me. It matters to me that he doesn’t think I can “do this”, “this” being teaching people to code. But, like any other problem or question I’m facing, I got down to unpacking it. Here’s the deal: NO. Unequivocally. I can not teach you nor your kid to code in one day. It’s just not possible, and I told him as much. But I was curious why he’d bother to ask and here’s where I landed: people in the technology industry have had to work really hard to get there. It’s not an easy gig. It often means 4-8 years of a formal computer science or engineering education. They love what they do and they take it seriously. Which is why, I  think, they can be weirdly protective of it. They can throw up “gates” around the knowledge they’ve worked so hard to earn. They can want other people to have to “earn” it, too. Just like with so many things in life, just because we had to struggle does not mean that the next generation should be forced to.

It’s also probably important to note that, by many people’s standards I’m not “qualified”. I am not a software developer, data scientist, or computer engineer. So not only am I offering up all this knowledge to people that haven’t “earned” it, I haven’t even earned the right to teach it myself, or so some folks would have you think. If you’re thinking “This sounds like the definition of imposter syndrome” you’d be right! (Sadly there are no prizes for knowing the answer).

The thing is, I’ve never liked “gate keeping”. I’ve never felt the need to keep the things I love away from other people. I’ve never worried that sharing what I love would lessen it somehow. Knowledge isn’t a precious thing to be protected. It’s meant to be shared, even if it’s imperfect. This is the attitude that I’ve picked up from nerds themselves. My favourite nerds love things with an abandon that non-nerds would be embarrassed by. Not only do they love it, but they’re happy to share it with you and to explain to you why you might love it, too!

I’ve also learned that, while I am not an engineer, I have a different skill that I’ll argue is equally value. Let’s call it “Just doing the damn thing”. I want people in my community to benefit from having a basic level of digital literacy. So I’m just doing the damn thing. I’ve taught myself enough to pass along to someone else and I’m doing it. If I don’t know enough, I hire people that do (go figure). But I digress…

“Can you really teach someone to code in a day?” No, but not because I’m me and not because the people I’m teaching aren’t capable and bright. It’s because the world of computer science and engineering is vast and deep. But then so is the world of food. It’s funny how we don’t ask if it’s worth it to “only” learn how to roast a chicken, or make a lasagna, or bake a pie. Why? In nearly every other part of our lives we accept that learning is a process, one where even a little knowledge is generally a good thing. It is good to know how to make soup from scratch, even if you’ll never be a chef. And it is good to learn to read code, or understand logic, or know what data is and why it’s important, even if you’ll never be an engineer, or analyst, or developer.

So the next time you see that coding workshop, or that WordPress bootcamp, or that Photoshop class, don’t panic about if you’ll learn “enough”. Don’t worry about if it’ll be “worth” it. Don’t ask yourself if it’s valuable “enough” for your kiddo. After all, I write my own code about as often as I make Chocolate Whiskey Cake, but man am I ever glad I’m able to do both when I do!

Photo credit Fo Photography

I’m just your average small-town Alberta gal bound and determined never to stay in her lane. Despite being a two-time college dropout and a stay at home mom for ten years  (to two rebellious young ladies), I now kick butt in the corporate financial and tech sectors by day, and am a passionate community leader by night. I’m dead set on improving the lives of women and girls in my community through a combination of mentorship, representation, opportunity, and technology. I proudly lead a merry bunch of misfits that are the Canada Learning Code team here in Edmonton, where we run more than 20 free or low-cost technology workshops for Canadians of all ages, and four huge annual events. I’m always up for a new partnership or collabs: hit me up! @bazinga.elzinga or