You Should Start Learning to Code. Today.

I am writing this article for the members of the Society for Conservation GIS NY/NJ Chapter who are at the beginning of their careers, but all those who want to add coding skills to their resumes can benefit from reading it.
I have been an advocate for STEAM education my entire life. Coming from a family of educators, and being a nerdy kid, it was not exactly hard to be convinced of its enormous value early. Most recently, I have been extremely worried to observe how a lack of education is undermining democracy itself.
I am talking about STEAM education, not just STEM. Meaning that the Arts should always be part of the package. They are much more important for modern civilization than you might think. More important than science? Just as important, and equally important to physical education, in my opinion. I will detail this on another occasion.
I am not only an advocate of STEAM education. I am an advocate of life-long learning. And one of the skills you should start honing today is coding.
It will reinforce your reasoning skills. It will teach you how computers think. In addition to keeping your mental abilities in top shape, you might discover a way of earning a good living in a very in-demand field, from the comfort of your home, or from wherever you have internet access.
I code in Python, R, SQL, JavaScript, and PHP. I am proficient in HTML and CSS.
There was never a better time to learn in the entire human history. You no longer have to go to a brick-and-mortar school and pay top dollar for tuition. You can learn for free online, using freely available apps and platforms. But here is the trick: you will have to do it daily. It has to become a habit. Just like physical training. Even ten minutes a day will matter.
If you are a complete newbie, I recommend starting with Python on SoloLearn. It is available on desktop as well as a mobile app. Feel free to try other free versions of coding apps. Other favorites of mine are Mimo and Py.
If you are interested in statistics, or just want to see if data science is for you, learn R. A great way to learn R is through its own package called swirl, but try it in Datacamp first. There is a very high demand for data scientists, they can work remotely, and they are paid even better than web developers. Plus, learning statistics even at elementary levels is extraordinarily useful in today's world. Python can also be used for statistics, but R was created especially for that purpose. You will see what I mean once you learn both. And if you are in the GIS field coming from a conservation background, like I am, you will want to learn both.
As a nature scientist, I cannot recommend enough the HarvardX specializations available on Start with the Data Science Professional Certification. Then move on to Data Analysis for Life Science. I wish I took the Data Science courses on EdX before getting certified in R Programming on Coursera (I took The Data Scientist's Toolbox first). As exhilarating as it was writing my first R scripts, it was a rather steep learning curve (read: I almost freaked out a couple of times that I would never be able to solve those coding problems. Turned out it was only my patience and attention to detail being tested... Yes, coding will also cultivate your patience, attention to detail, and grit.)
If web development is more your thing, the University of Michigan Web Applications For Everybody on Coursera is amazing - I never thought I would learn PHP, yet, here I am. Take Web Design for Everybody first. I am midway through the Python for Everybody specialization from the same institution, taught by the same one and only dr. Chuck. For a spatial data scientist, Python is a must.
As soon as you are no longer a newbie, get on CodeWars. I love that they require you to solve a riddle to gain access... Once in, go ahead and challenge my to a Kumite. My username is soranatarmu. My level is currently 7 kyu.
Coding will keep your hyperactive brain busy with a wholesome occupation, therefore lowering anxiety. When I launch my IDE (my favorite one is Atom) I am in a place of peace. Everything makes sense. Reason prevails.
Start learning to code now especially if you are a girl. You will thank me later.
Finally, if nothing else, learn to code for free brain training. You can try learning to play a musical instrument. Take dance classes (bonus: physical health benefits and socializing). Learn a foreign language. Play crossword puzzles. Play sudoku. But, by all means, give coding a try. It is not at all as hard as it seems. And you might discover an incredibly rewarding career path.


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