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4 questions to ask yourself before jumping on the learn-to-code bandwagon

People who understand the language behind the apps, websites and programs being built on the daily are valuable employees and entrepreneurs. But are we all supposed to aspire to be software engineers now?

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Coding: So hot right now

For the past couple of years, the Internet has been saturated with articles about the “must-have job skill of the future.” This year, President Obama launched a new “Computer Science For All” initiative that aims to make coding more accessible to all students so that they can be “creators in the digital economy, not just consumers.”

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What’s the hype?

Are we all supposed to aspire to be software engineers now?

Not exactly.

People who understand the language behind the apps, websites and programs being built on the daily are valuable employees and entrepreneurs. But beyond the practicality of giving everyone a fair shot at success in the information age, this knowledge is empowering in principle.

As this Forbes writer reflects: “I’m not enrolling my son in coding lessons because I want him to learn to code. Instead, I want to make sure he understands enough about the language of computing that he’s in control of the machines that power our world.”

A flexible skill, coding is useful for many industries

Having graduated with a degree in journalism last year, I noticed the shift in emphasis to embracing computer science in the College of Communication.

In addition to the proficiency to write, take and edit photographs, shoot video and manage audio, it’s handy for journalists to know how to design and manage websites. Professors in 2016 understand the rapidly changing nature of the job market and see the opportunities for collaboration.

At UT Austin, journalism and computer science students join together in a mobile design class to build functional apps with the goal of being accepted to the Apple store by the end of a semester – no easy task. With this real world experience introduced in the classroom, some journalism students go on to pursue a variety of tech jobs.

Web development is a popular area to go into; web editor positions at media organizations include design work, where part of the description includes knowing how to build the HTML (the skeleton) and CSS (the clothing) of a site.

But is coding for everyone?

Coding should be accessible for everyone, no question. But that doesn’t mean we all need to pursue it to be a successful member of society.

It’s great that parents are starting to expose their children to coding tutorials, just as they would with music lessons, sports or the pursuit of any other engaging hobby.

But as an adult who might have less time to experiment and learn, here are four important questions to ask yourself before you invest your time in the coding craze.

Before you begin…

1. Do you enjoy problem solving?
You’ve made it through school. You know your habits, your preferences, your strengths.

So before anything else, take a moment to reflect: Were you that kid that thrived off of tackling challenges, or did you skip to the answers at the back of the book after a few failed attempts?

Coding is a lot of trial-and-error; 90 percent of a programmer’s time is spent fixing bugs in the code that they spent 10 percent of their time on. No doubt it’ll be frustrating at times, but you’re supposed to enjoy doing it.

2. What do you want to create?
You’re not coding just to code, you’re coding to create something. Considering the end product will help you narrow your decision to what language (Python, JavaScript, Swift, to name a few) to pursue first.

There’s no way you’re going to grasp every element of each language, so follow the path you’re interested in, whether it’s web development, app design or video games.

3. Hobby vs. Career: Which one?
Wanting to learn to code doesn’t mean you’re destined for full-time work as an engineer. Maybe you just have a unique idea for an app and you’d like to see it come to life. Maybe you want something productive to do on the weekends other than drinking beer and playing with your dog.

Although helpful for networking, a formal education is not necessary for instruction. The self-taught route is a feasible option for people with perseverance and discipline.

As with anything, progress comes with practice. But to determine the extent to your commitment and use your time wisely, figure out whether coding is a fun side project or a potential career path.

4. How much do you want it?
Cue the motivational speech.

It’s not easy. Blood, sweat and tears, baby.

Coding takes a lot of mental stamina and acceptance of the fact that you’ll still feel ignorant after hours and hours of learning.

The prospect should be open for everyone, but not everyone is built to be a programmer. Acknowledging this doesn’t make you dumb or unworthy. If it’s not your thing, something else is.

Ultimately, it’s up to you

Now that I’ve reflected on these questions, maybe I’ll finally commit to finishing my CSS lessons on Codecademy. Web development, I’m coming for you.

#ToCodeOrNotToCode

Staff Writer Larisa Manescu cringes at the question “Where are you from?” because it’s a long story, but it’s one she loves to share if you ask her. Her interests include storytelling, social justice and choreographed group dance classes.

Tech News

New stats behind mobile addiction and how people are coping

(SOCIAL MEDIA) Addiction to our screens is now accepted, and while younger generations are glued more tightly to them, many people are finding ways to fight back.

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I’d probably get this article done faster if I wasn’t checking my phone every couple of sentences. Even if I’m not expecting a message and know that everyone I was talking to is currently busy, it’s likely I’ll still neurotically check my phone every few minutes just in case.

Turns out I’m not alone in my mobile addiction.

A study from Deloitte of 2,000 U.S. internet users aged 18 to 75 found most people check their smartphone roughly 47 times a day.

Younger users nearly double this stat, checking their devices around 86 times a day, up from 82 times reported in the 2016 study.

The study also assessed which activities drove users to check their smartphones. Patterns of use compared to the previous year remain relatively unchanged except for self-reports of checking the phone while driving, which has fortunately decreased.

More than nine out of every ten respondents confess they use their phone while shopping or “spending leisure time.” Over eight out of ten reported checking on phones while watching TV, eating in a restaurant, and even while talking to family and friends.

When watching a show that’s longer than eleven minutes, I put my phone on the opposite side of the room if I want any hope of paying attention. I know if I keep my phone next to me, I’ll miss crucial chunks of episodes. This is a partial attempt to manage the addiction.

Likewise, around 47 percent of respondents said they’re trying to limit their usage, and are actively taking steps to reduce time spent on their phones. Some people report success by simply keeping their phones out of sight, turning it off during meals, or while spending time with friends.

A third of those surveyed turn off audio notifications, while around a quarter even went as far as putting some apps the chopping block. Another quarter could only part with their phones at bed time, turning their devices off at night.

Having a smartphone is fun (an addiction), but you don’t want to end up being that sad woman in the “Selfie” episode of High Maintenance only interacting with your phone.

Sometimes it can be much healthier to just put your phone away for a while. This can be a few hours of no phone time, or if you cans swing it, a few days of “business only” phone time.

Let people know if you’re going radio silent for a significant amount of time though, because otherwise your mom will think you’re dead if you stop responding to texts. Now please excuse me while I fail to follow my own advice and continue the technology loop of checking my Snaps, texts, and Instagram feed.

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Tech News

Turn your FAQ page into a chatbot without knowing how to code

(TECH NEWS) An easy way to add a chatbot to your site and automate some of your work is through this new simple tool that doesn’t require any tech know-how.

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faqbot chatbot

Reduce your workload and personalize customer service engagement with Faqbot, the tool that turns your online FAQ into a customized chatbot.

Co-founded by Denny Wong and CEO Mathis André, Faqbot uses machine learning to streamline frequently asked questions into a handy chatbot pal.

Based on your existing FAQ content, Faqbot builds a database that learns from every conversation to improve responses. Faqbot can also be used to automate sales and lead generation.

You get to design the conversation flow, mapping out a custom path to guide users to a desired outcome. Set predefined choices or free text, customize the bot’s responses, and determine what leading questions the bot should ask.

For example, on the Faqbot site, I was given two pre-set choices to click after each response from the bot. Clicking “Thanks for helping” gets the polite response “You are welcome! ;-)” complete with an old-school emoji featuring a nose.

If you select “not my question,” Faqbot uses its general response to any unanswerable question: “Sorry, I’m a chatbot. I am constantly learning and have answers to frequently asked questions. Thank you for leaving your email and we will get back to you shortly.”

Choose your own responses based on already defined FAQ or come up with new messaging to better engage and inform your customers as needed. The free text option is also available if customers wish to continue asking questions.

Of course, I had to try out some less than frequently asked questions. When I asked Faqbot “are we friends?” it kindly replied, “Absolutely. You don’t have to ask.” So I’m smitten.

However, when I tried to take it to the next level by asking “Do you love me?,” which seems to be the internet’s favorite way to harass a bot, I got the “Sorry, I’m a chatbot” response.

That’s okay. I’ll recover. Faqbot isn’t here to love, it’s here to answer questions.

You can easily install the chatbot by either copy/pasting the snippet of codes directly into your webpage, or connect Faqbot to your company’s Facebook page. No coding skills required.

Pricing is based on number of users per month, but all levels include the same service offerings of FAQ database management, messaging interface, a ticketing system, and DIY guided conversation flow. You can try out Faqbot free for 7 days by signing up on their site.

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Tech News

Ex-Facebook President, Sean Parker says they knew they were creating addictions

(SOCIAL MEDIA) Sean Parker, a long-time player in tech, says that Facebook was aware they were creating something addictive but “did it anyway.”

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Oh snap, there’s some Facebook drama going on, and like most Facebook drama, it’s a little awkward and over-exaggerated.

During an Axios event at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Sean Parker, first president of Facebook, co-founder of Napster, Mother of Dragons, and now founder and chair of the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy, lamented openly during a candid discussion about his role in creating the social media giant.

“The thought process that went into building these applications, Facebook being the first of them… was all about: ‘How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?'” said Parker, likening the cycle of posting and receiving likes and thus posting more to being given a “little dopamine hit.”

That’s right folks, Facebook was designed to be enjoyable and addictive.

While tycoons Sean Parker and Mark Zuckerberg remain large players in the current social media sphere, social media was already an addicting form of communication with old schoolers Friendster, Myspace, LiveJournal, and even Second Life. As mobile technology advances and marketing makes the tech seem less daunting and more fun, naturally, social media would begin to proliferate over time.

Arcade machines, pinball machines, theme park games, you name it; all were designed to be both fun and addicting.

But those things couldn’t really be carried around, because the tech wasn’t quite there yet. Now all of these things can be done from a phone, installed from the app store for free, to be used at any spare moment’s notice with sporadic pop-ups encouraging you to buy more in-game currency to keep playing.

Even better, Facebook gives us a platform to sick brag about our high scores and pester relatives to help out our digital farms.

During the discussion with Axios, Parker refers to his and his colleagues’ knowledge of media addiction and time consumption “exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology” by creating a social feedback validation loop… something a hacker might come up with.

“[W]e understood this consciously,” Parker said, concluding with a harrowing, “And we did it anyway.”

Selfies have been around since I can remember getting the internet at 13. Filters had to be applied manually or via Photoshop, and there were more dirty bathroom mirror photos with a hot white flash in half the shots, but they were there.

This just happens to be an age of selfies. More people are getting into the tech. It’s getting better, cheaper, and more obtainable, so yeah, people are going to get more creative and more use out of it than they used to.

Though it’s not entirely clear that rabid selfie-sharing is Parker’s uneasiness, but what makes Facebook and other new social media platforms different than some of their predecessors is the automation of things through algorithms, the collection of data for targeting advertising, and privacy concerns.

So let’s not simply assume using Facebook and social media platforms will do weird things to our brains, rather let’s be smart about how we use them.

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