Heidi is a 2nd year bioengineering PhD student at the University of Pennsylvania. She is a co-creator and co-editor of Beta Pleated Chic
At the end of that whirlwind of a quarter (and after completing my final project twice because my hard drive crashed when I was putting on the finishing touches. My innocent freshman self didn’t know that you should ALWAYS BACK EVERYTHING UP. ALWAYS.), I thought, ‘Cool. I learned how to program a couple of games. But I don’t think I want to be a game designer, plus I’m already like 9 years behind my classmates in programming skills, so I think I’ll pass on taking any more computer science classes.’ And then, some how I made it through the rest of my Materials Science and Engineering major without ever taking another programming class. I used graphing paper, pencils, and a calculator instead of learning Matlab; I even learned how to use a Wulff Net to construct stereograms by hand. I wasn’t actively avoiding learning how to code, but I didn’t seek out opportunities either.
Hindsight is 20-20. Just as College Freshman Heidi wished she had taken a programming class in high school, PhD Student Heidi wished she had invested more time and effort into learning to code in college. So here I am, 26 years old, and finally realizing that I don’t want Dr. Heidi Norton, PhD to be wishing she had learned to code during grad school. So….…. I’M LEARNING TO CODE! And you can too!
Here are 6 reasons why learning to code at 26 has been awesome for me:
1. I care way more about what I’m learning and way less about how I stack up next to my peers than I did when I was 19.
2. I have a clearer vision of what I want to do with my future and what skills I need to get there, so I’m less likely to get discouraged now as compared to when I was younger.
3. My entire career is ahead of me, and I know that gaining some solid programming skills now will open a ton of doors for me later.
4. There are tons of WAY better online resources for learning to code now than there were in 2008.
Here are a few things I’m doing to learn:
1. This awesome Python Course from Google has helped me learn how to get python set up correctly on my computer and to run code through the Terminal.
2. This codecademy module has helped me familiarize myself with various data structures within Python. It’s also been fun to complete one mini module per day.
3. This MatLab textbook by the awesome Stormy Attaway (her husband’s last name is de Winter! She could have been Stormy de Winter! But, as a married woman who kept her own name, I must stand in solidarity with Stormy Attaway) has helped me catch up with the basics.
4. I’m taking two classes that force me to code every day. One course is an image processing class that assumes I have a much better Matlab background than my [nonexistent] background. The second is an Epigenomics course that is teaching me Python as I go. I thought it would feel super overwhelming, but it’s actually been a ton of fun.
5. Coursera has tons of seriously awesome courses on learning to program like this one.
So, to the 17-year old who thinks that only nerds take computer science classes in high school: BE A NERD! Nerds rule! (No one said you can’t be a cool nerd.) Learning to program now will give you the confidence and skills to thrive in any type of quantitative work you might want to do in college. If your high school offers a programming class, check it out! If they don’t, see if your local community college has something to offer. Or, check out some of the online resources above.
To the 22 year-old college senior who wishes she had gotten into CS as a freshman: Take a programming class next semester! Sure, CS XXX might require a bit more work than Wine Tasting 101, but that extra bit of work could really impact your future job prospects in a positive way.
To the 26 year-old PhD student who thinks it might be too late to learn to program: It’s not! Do it!
To the 35 (or 45 or 55 or 65) year-old management consultant who thinks a career in programming would have been awesome, but it’s definitely too late to switch over: Check out one of these coding bootcamps (here, here, and here -- there are a ton more!) that teach you everything you need to make a career leap in around 12 weeks.
To the 72 year-old grandma who wants to keep her mind sharp: taking a programming class could be a really fun way to challenge yourself and impress your grandkids.
If you’ve found some great resources for learning to code, please share them in the comments! The world needs more ladies (and men!) who can code.