Project Unicode Girl: Newbie Learns to Code

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I am thinking about something much more important than bombs. I am thinking about computers.

John von Neumann, 1946

Thanks to computers, we have TED, a nonprofit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading. I recently watched a talk by George Dyson about the mathematician John von Neumann. Von Neumann was pretty excited about the promise of programmable computers. His ambition was a new type of computer, one that could perform different tasks without changes to its hardware: One computer to rule all tasks.

The US decided to fund this endeavour during the Cold War race for atomic supremacy. Von Neumann’s machine primarily ran mathematical modelling for constructing the hydrogen bomb. It could also be programmed to perform less odious tasks, like playing chess, though the archives reveal it was a monstrous and unwieldy thing:

5 a.m.: I’ve been at this all night, and I still can’t find the problem. I’m disgusted and I’m going to bed! 2

Still, Von Neumann had created his multi-tasking machine, and all modern computers stem from there. Now, I too am thinking about them.

When the global system of computer networks was joined by the creation of the Web, we were suddenly able to find and view content online. This development was initially billed as like TV, but better. Certainly, we tend to be very good at consuming the Web, but very few of us know how to produce code for it. Among other things, this means programmers are sought after and can command a good wage.

This isn’t necessarily the result of university educations either. Many of the best web developers are self-taught, which is interesting if, like me, you fancy a career change but are finding the barriers prohibitively high. Of course, there’s always a mountain to climb, a wall to straddle, but a career in web development is a tangibly achievable thing. The resources for learning how to code are readily available, often online for free, and all it takes is a logical mind, good attention, and a dose of determination. I think I can manage that.

I’m also attracted to programming from a feminist perspective and the desire to break into a currently male dominated sphere. In fact, women did most of the coding for Von Neumann’s machine; they were the first programmers.1

So, my quest over the next year is to learn how to code interactive applications for the Web; not to learn all there is to know, that’s to say, but to become proficient enough to earn a living wage and continue gaining knowledge from there. I’ll be noting practical information here, to consolidate my own knowledge and share it with anyone who is similarly interested in learning how to code. I’m an absolute beginner (I have working experience of HTML and CSS, but no coding experience), so will start out in the foothills. See you there!

References

  1. Dyson, George. ”At the birth of the computer.” TED. Posted June 2008 (Filmed March 2003).

  2. Myhrvold, Nathan. ”John von Neumann.” Time Magazine. Posted March 1999.

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