There has been a major push in the current era for everyone to ‘learn to code’. Lost your job? Learn to code. Job skills no longer relevant? Learn to code. Robots do your job now? Learn to code. Massive electromagnetic pulse (EMP) destroys technological infrastructure? Learn to co— wait, maybe not that one, but you get the idea.

As someone who’s barely scratched the surface of learning to code, I can definitely say that coding is not for everyone. Assuming that everyone is going to be able to acquire the skill is like assuming everyone will learn to fly a Boeing 747. I’m not saying it is not possible for most anyone to do it, just that doing it well, or at least safely, is going to require an investment in time, patience, and training that relatively few individuals are ever going to make. Do you want to ride in a Boeing 747 that is being piloted by Joe-Bob who decided to learn to fly because his hours at the Piggly Wiggly got cut?

Even with all the safeguards that exist, some planes don’t get where they are going and crash due to pilot error. Even with a lot of training some people won’t ever write good code.

While there is less risk to life and limb with bad code compared to bad flying, the code has the potential to affect a lot more people than you can cram into a jet.

Although I find it unlikely that we are all going to wake up as fluent coders overnight, I do think there are some areas that most people can exploit to greatly enhance their ability to utilize technology. This seemingly obscure path to technological autonomy lies within maximizing your ability to use the user interface.Here is an example: Everyone uses Word to create and edit documents. The list of people who use keyboard shortcuts in Word is however much shorter. I’m not suggesting that you have to learn ALL the shortcuts but maybe focus on a few things that you use often. Check out the keyboard shortcuts for Word 2013 here: I guarantee you can find a simple keyboard shortcut there that will make something you do in Word both faster and easier. You might even find some features you never knew existed that you now can’t live without.

They are shoehorning a digital assistant into everything these days. Your phone, your tablet, your pc, your thermostat, your wireless speaker, etc. etc. etc. I tend to be a bit skittish around devices that can listen in 24/7/365 because, hey, that’s a little creepy. I do however allow google assistant to live on my phone, but only accessible through a push button on my Bluetooth headset.

This arrangement allows me to maintain my paranoia while still having access to modern technology. I can push a button and ask:

  • How much should a housecat weigh? (apparently 10 pounds) or
  • Who is the tallest celebrity? (Peter Mayhew – Chewbacca) or
  • What is 8700 times 323? (2,810,100)

It is also very handy for making calls or sending text messages, all entirely hands free. Granted my interactions with it are not always on friendly terms when the so and so doesn’t listen to me the first time and says “I’m sorry I didn’t get that.” Gah!

Assuredly, there are many ways to use technology and you don’t necessarily need to become a coder to come across as a digital ninja to your friends and colleagues.

Have fun and, as always, compute safely.

By Ty Gay, Network Systems Engineer