June 2016

So, What is Coding, Anyway?


Amy Traylor


Coding is a skill that lets you tell computers what to do. Through coding, you can tell computers to do all kinds of things. Through coding, you can make a website, find a job, build a career, work in many industries, start a software business, build an app, launch a video game, or just understand technology.



Coding is what makes it possible for us to create computer software, apps and websites. Your browser, your operating system, the apps on your phone, Facebook…they’re all made with code. — codeconquest.com


Why learn coding?

Computer programming, or coding, is now considered a vital digital-literacy skill for the next generation. Fortunately, opportunities for coding are taking root in New Mexico. The Community Learning Network is spearheading a regional collaborative initiative in Santa Fe to bring coding to communities and youth through MeetUps, bootcamps and accelerator trainings, as well as online resources and links. The first “creative coding” camp takes place in June.


Creative coding is a good way for novices to experiment with the skill set and challenges of computer literacy. While creative coding doesn’t skimp on the concepts or syntax, it offers a friendlier forum of experimentation for beginners. Instead of writing code to query databases or build webpages, students write code to make objects and design functions that, for example, can make images dance across the screen. They can have fun making digital art and installations, taking apart a video and putting it back together, or programming their own musical instruments to perform.


Experimenting with creative coding is also a stepping stone to developing professional coders who can apply the skill to research, computations, data science, health, modeling, image/pattern recognition, new media and business. Creative coding uses the same code and procedural learning used to write any other program. Participants learn Processing, a coding language built from Java and developed by Casey Reas and Ben Fry in 2001 at the MIT Media Lab. It was originally designed to fill a need for a programming language that catered to artists, architects and other noncomputer science majors. It was easier to learn and faster to work with.


Learning to code can be a life-altering experience. Every time you run code, it’s like a little miracle happens. Coding is important because it offers students something that is completely new and yet rapidly growing in demand and highly applicable to the changing shape of our world and information sharing in our new economy. Learning to code provides the ultimate freedom to create your own tools, decide exactly what you want to do and make it happen, rather than relying on others. Code provides the shortest pathway to innovation. Mathematicians are now writing new algorithms that actually produce high-resolution images from satellite imagery created from composites of multiple low-resolution source images. With code you can push the boundaries of what is currently possible.


Through creative coding, even students who do not want to grow up to be artists get a digital toolkit to create code they can use for personal pursuits. They leave school understanding that coding can be something you do for yourself or for a career, and it is a tool you can use to solve a myriad of problems. They leave with a fearlessness to tackle the unknown and even reshape it through pushing the code, breaking it and fixing it again. They may become doctors who write code to track patients’ symptoms, accountants who write code to develop new investment algorithms, or machinists who write and use code on a daily basis to push forward industry. The industry website Quartz (qz.com) recently reported that 62 percent of software developers are applying their skills in arenas far beyond Internet companies, including areas such as finance, consulting, health care, retail, manufacturing and other industries. Of those surveyed, two-thirds were self-taught.


Many websites are available to learn coding on your own, including Khan Academy, MOOC and Kadenze.com. You can learn more about the basics and find other online and offline resources, including access to new and even subsidized regional educational opportunities for full-stack training at www.nmcodeworks.org. If you are interested in attending a creative coding bootcamp or applying to join a regional, 8-week software-developer accelerator-training course, you can join the mailing list and register at www.nmcodeworks.org



Amy Traylor, an award-winning artist and technologist, teaches creative technology and new media art at Del Norte High School in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She will be a featured educator at the upcoming Career Academy and future Creative Coding Bootcamps in Santa Fe, through NMCodeWorks.org





Student Commentary


Creative coding is fun! We have done a lot this year, and I’ve enjoyed all of it. My favorite is where you use someone’s face and draw little pictures with pixels and it re-creates the face. Coding is hard and can be stressful, but when you finish, it always gives you a sense of satisfaction. Coding takes a lot of time and patience. You can’t just give up or get mad when you can’t get something the way you want; you have to keep playing with it until it’s what you are looking for. Sometimes, you may even have to look things up to understand what you are trying to do. It takes me forever because I like my work to be perfect, but in code there isn’t actually a “perfect” piece of work. All of it is great, as long as you like the way it looks. The cool thing is that your code, no matter how simple or complex, will still be great and could end up in a museum. I would suggest that everyone try coding. It’s an amazing way to express yourself through art. — Addie Raymer, Del Norte High School student



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