In response to the calls on the internet that people should learn to code, Andre suggests another path:
Instead of learning how to code, learn how to create with code. Learn how to make things with the abundance of tools out there available to you.
Andre suggests interactive fiction and video game level editors as examples of how one might approach this.
I think this is great advice.
In the 80’s, people would suggest you “learn BASIC” – which was kind of a way of saying learn to program with training wheels first.
Because the alternatives back then – starting with something like C or assembly language – were a lot harder, and it would take longer until you could do anything with some visible or fun results. What BASIC lacked in power and maintainability it made up for with its learning curve.
Some of my earliest programming was using BASIC to write simple games for my TI-82 calculator. (I was devastated when someone erased them because there was no backup, and I had to try and rewrite my ASCII art Space Invaders clone from memory.)
Another early programming experience was using INFORM in 1998 to create a piece of interactive fiction for a high school English class final project. Before I had learned the theory or reality of object-oriented programming in college, I was able to very quickly create something that would have been far beyond my abilities if I had started from scratch with what I knew (at the time, creating simple Pascal apps on a Mac and just barely how to create C programs on Linux.)
Creating With Computers
Part of the value of these types of things is that they are entry points into the world of creating with computers – the idea that the computer is a tool for creating complex and wonderful things, not just a way to experience what others have made.
I’m reminded of one of my favorite quotes from Paul B. Davis - “and the potential always exists for you to acknowledge that a computer is completely programmable in every aspect and that it’s most powerful function is to facilitate tool creation. because if you don’t, then the computer becomes solely a vehicle for content delivery to a captive audience (aka TV).”
The Implications of Better Tools
I’ve been thinking more about how better tools and services also have implications for the larger creative ecosystem, as I wrote after the XOXO conference:
“Part of my thesis here is that information technology has actually so drastically lowered the cost of business communication that we are now seeing instances where specialization and loosely coupled systems of complementary businesses can compete against complex integrated large companies, in large part by getting lots of people access to the market with the combined power of these specialized services.
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