I have noticed an increasing trend recently of people who aren’t professional programmers wanting to learn coding. There are a bunch of businesses and web sites that have sprung up around this: pluralsight.com, lynda.com, codeacademy.com, just to name a few. I think that this is a great trend, but I also think it deserves a measured approach.

Every worker can likely improve their productivity by learning some basic coding skills. Whether it’s automating some data entry, or being able to maintain a simple website, we all have tasks that we do with computers that could probably be made more efficient with a little coding know-how. For example, I know someone who had to do data entry on a web form, transcribing it from an excel spreadsheet, and they automated the process with a simple Excel macro. I have also had cases where I needed to rename a few hundred files with certain conventions, and shell scripts (batch files) fit the bill perfectly.

But not everyone can or should try to be a professional programmer on the side. Being a professional anything takes time and dedication. While you may learn how to fix a leak under the kitchen sink or even replace a garbage disposal, it probably doesn’t make much sense for you to learn how to be a professional plumber while maintaining your day job. The same applies to auto mechanics skills, or electrician skills, or to legal skills and business management. Everyone can improve their life by acquiring some basic skills in all of these areas, but as soon as you start putting too much effort, you will short your primary pursuits and end up being a master of nothing.

My advice is to absolutely spend some time learning to code. Find the ways that you can invest smaller amounts of time to get the largest benefit. Don’t try to be a professional programmer… unless, of course, you want to give up being a professional whatever-you-are-now. In that case, by all means, dive right in and make a career switch! Programming is awesome!

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