Why You Should Learn Computer Programming

aNews that numerous cathedrals are offering short courses in Latin is a reminder of the long decline of the language over the years. It was a core subject in the British education system until fairly recently – and not because anyone planned to speak it, of course. It was believed to offer valuable training for intellectual composition, as well as skills and thinking that were transferable to other fields.

It may have been the right decision, but when it was ultimately decided that these advantages were outweighed by Latin being a dead language we arguably lost that intellectual training in the process. This is why we want to make the case for moving another discipline to the centre of the curriculum that offers analogous benefits – computer programming. And unlike Latin, it is anything but dead.

Noam lore. Brian Talbot, CC BY-SA

There are many computer languages for different purposes. C and C++ remain the fastest to execute and are used by the gaming industry, for instance. In the internet era, much of the page design is done with the likes of JavaScript or PHP. Meanwhile Python has been rapidly gaining a reputation as a general purpose code that is easy to learn.

There are many parallels between natural languages and programming languages like these. You must learn to express yourself within the rules of the language. There is a grammar to comprehend. And what you write must be interpretable by another human being. (Yes, it must be interpretable by a computer. But just as Noam Chomsky’s example of “colourless green ideas sleep furiously” is grammatically correct nonsense, you can write obfuscated computer code that no one else can decipher.)

People who program can communicate with computers, which is becoming more and more important now that computers have a hand in almost everything. In today’s IT-literate world, we are all expected to be fluent in word processing and spreadsheets. The next logical step is to be able to program.

The younger generation are already exposed to computers almost from the day they are born, which explains for example Barclays bank’s recent launch of Code Playground, an initiative to engage young children in the basics of programming via a colourful website.

There is a myth that only maths geniuses are suited to programming. It is more accurate to say you need a logical approach and an ability to problem solve. Just as Latin constructs reinforce communication, programming constructs reinforce problem solving. It teaches you to break a problem into achievable chunks and to think very precisely. And once you have mastered the basics, it opens up great potential for creative thinking.

Then there are specific workplace benefits, such as for businesses that are building a bespoke piece of software. Errors sometimes occur when documents outlining in English how a program should work are translated into computer code. Those who have an appreciation of a programming language can write these more clearly. Indeed, businesses usually have to employ specialist analysts as intermediaries to help with this translation process.