9 Common Misconceptions About Coding

Coding is just for nerdy boys with hygiene issues, right? Wrong. Coding has now found its way into nightclubs, schools, live events and design studios. We bust a few of the most common myths about what coding really involves…

PHOTO: Algorave at Glasgow School of Art. The text is Sonic Pi, being live-coded by its creator Sam Aaron. PHOTO Claire Quigley

1. “It’s for people stuck in computer labs”

There’s this image of coding as being boring, or not creative, which in reality isn’t true at all. Coding is basically a tool to help you do what you want, so if you’re interested in music, art, fashion, storytelling – anything really – coding might be a way to help you solve certain problems, and build devices. I was at an Algorave recently at Glasgow Art School (pictured above), which was excellent. Basically someone types code live in a club, and music is generated from the algorithms. Sonic Pi is another example, a live coding synth that lets you make music, which can be used anywhere really. Or there’s Twine, which allows you to write interactive fiction, a bit like a Choose Your Own Adventure. A lot of people might be surprised at just how many creative uses there are for coding.

Claire Quigley, project officer for CoderDojo Scotland, based at Glasgow Science Centre, part of a global collaboration that provides free coding clubs for young people

2. “It’s anti-social”

One of the biggest misconceptions is that coders put headphones on and never interact with another human being. This is absolutely not the case. We need to talk to project managers, account managers, designers, clients, all sorts of people. In fact, working with other programmers (pair programming) is one of the best ways to write better code. We are always part of a team and thus being an excellent communicator is a very important part of our job.

Valerie Gibson, instructor at CodeClan digital skills academy, Edinburgh

3. “Coding is done by 18-30 year olds”

People have a stereotype in mind about coders – normally a coder is a very techie male, probably aged in his twenties. It’s not necessarily the case though. Through the School of Informatics where I work, we’ve run Science Communication workshops for the public, involving children and elderly people, and what matters is having a systematic approach and an ability to problem solve. I worked recently with a woman in her 70s who admitted that she wasn’t overly comfortable with the latest technologies. After being shown the basics, she got the hang of it, and was able to build a programme. She did code – and proved that coding can be both feasible and relevant, whatever your age.

Areti Manataki, senior researcher in the School of Informatics, University of Edinburgh

4. “You need to be an expert at maths to be a programmer”

Maths and coding are not tightly coupled. There is a lot of creative thinking in crafting a program and although there are programming roles which may involve complex maths, there are others which will involve next to no maths at all. There are many skills a programmer needs, maths is helpful for sure but not the be-all end-all. Learning to think logically, writing maintainable, readable code and being able to effectively communicate can be far more important.

Valerie Gibson, instructor at CodeClan digital skills academy, Edinburgh

5. “You need a brain the size of a planet to be able to code”

Coding requires intelligence, yes, but more than that it requires a willingness to learn, an ability to break down problems into smaller problems and perseverance. Many mere mortals have these skills, not only Geek Gods.”

John Bell, runs CoderDojo computer coding clubs for young people in Castlemilk and Bridgeton, Glasgow

6. “Women can’t code”

There’s this myth that women’s brains are ‘wired differently’. This is 100%, absolutely not true. It doesn’t matter what gender you are, it’s about how you approach problems and think through solutions that matters. Everyone thinks differently and has a different way of approaching problems and diversity of opinion is really important when crafting solutions. The more diversity you have in a programming team the better. Kate goes into more detail on this issue in her blog for CodeClan.

Valerie Gibson, instructor at CodeClan digital skills academy, Edinburgh

7. “Coding is dull”

The misconception among young people that ‘coding is dull’, or that it isn’t for them, is one of the main reasons the UK tech industry is facing a talent deficit. If we don’t address this misconception now, we’ll be left with a skills shortage that could hamper our fast-growing digital economy.

Despite being a generation of ‘digital natives’ who have grown up with technology, young people simply aren’t aware that coding is something they could actually make a living from. There’s a perception problem around the doors that coding can open – and it’s particularly tangible in young women.

Coding already has its female role models, like Dr Sue Black, or Linda Liukas, co-founder of Rails Girls. But it needs more. It needs to show what it can do, and why women and girls can not only succeed, but thrive. Coding is creative, and offers a world that’s ripe for invention. The more diverse the coders, the more infinite the possibilities.

Katie McQuater, features editor, The Drum, online media, creative, design and marketing platform

8. “Creative people don’t do coding”

One of the biggest misconceptions about coding is that it isn’t a career for creative people. This isn’t the case and at LEWIS we are always looking for technically creative solutions for our clients and new ways of doing things. Our team of front-end and back-end developers work in tandem with designers and it is this collaboration that sparks many of our great ideas and solutions, particularly as we have different ways of looking at the same problem. Whether it’s coming up with an idea for an app, delivering a way of showcasing content or delivering excellent user experiences and journeys, my team are always involved in the creative process from the start.”

Charles Marfleet, technical director at LEWIS, digital and design agency in Leith

9. “You need special qualifications to get into coding”

Until about a year ago, I didn’t know much about coding. I wrote a couple of simple programs on a BBC microcomputer sometime in the 1980s, and then… nothing. For my generation, the emphasis was on learning to use software, not learning to code. So working on Usborne’s new coding books has been a big learning curve – but enormously rewarding. Now I can see the benefits of learning to code, I want to share them with everyone. Coding is cool! It allows you to mess about and make things, see them come to life, and then share them with other people. My five-year-old daughter, Bella, is learning about coding at school. She loves making animations using Scratch Jr (a kids’ coding app) and Scratch (a computer language designed for beginners). Crafting a good piece of code can be really satisfying, like solving a puzzle, and you’re always learning something new.

Rosie Dickens, author of Coding for beginners using Scratch