Learning [Programming] is About More Than Material Resources

I went home for Thanksgiving on Thursday and was reunited with my younger brother who just started college at SUNY Binghamton in pursuit of a Economics degree. While catching up, I mentioned that he should learn to hack, and then apply to hackNY. And then he asked me:

“How do I learn to hack?”

And I explained the hack I meant was the positive connotation of the word, the create something that fixes a problem, connotation of the word. I reminded him that I had sent him links to Dive Into Python and Codeacademy because I did not know if he preferred the read a book and then write out the code yourself approach, or the interactive approach that sites like Codeacademy use. But his response was,

“But how do I learn?”

And I think this is a mistake many students in many disciplines make. Learning a new skills is not all about the teacher, the resources, or the tools you use, it is mainly about you. I’ve been fascinated with computers for as long as I could remember (my father is a physical chemist, so I am lucky in that they have always been around) and around age 10 I decided I wanted to code. I cracked/black hat hacked/whatever-word-you-want-to-use-for-naughty-coding in my adolescence but never really learned how to program for real until college.

The two reasons:

1. Intimidation
2. Passion/Drive 


I had no where how to begin (I had a Windows laptop and was told I should install Linux but had no idea how), and I was told that computer science and programming had a lot to do with mathematics skills and mathematics was the only subject I really felt like I needed to put an effort in to do well, so I decided I was bad at it (a post on the flaws in the American education system is in order at some point). It wasn’t until I was in college and knew someone who took the introduction to programming course outside of his major, and I happened to end up in a MATLAB heavy neuroscience laboratory as a Biology major that I even knew it was a possibility.


I told a close friend of mine that I missed 4 phone calls because I’ve been shutting off my electronics for 9 hours a day (which will be another post)  and she replied,

“but technology is your life.”

So somehow in the last 2 years I have went from Biology major who needs to MEMORIZE ALL THE THINGS to hacker who needs to HACK ALL THE THINGS. And while I never expect my brother to feel the same way I do about code, the one thing that really made me sit down, wipe my Windows OS for Linux Ubuntu, and write tons of crappy code until I felt somewhat competent, was when I had a problem I was really interested that I thought I could solve with code (I think it was a graph theory application to amphioxous brains).

Until my brother comes to me with a reason and  a motivation to learn programming, other than it helping him get a job, I’m not going to push him towards learning it.