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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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lean in coding full-stack

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 Apple Watch is awesome, but past watches could be just as good for cheaper

(TECH NEWS) The Apple Watch Series 6 is a ridiculous display of self-flattery—but that doesn’t mean people won’t line up to buy it in droves.

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Apple Watch being worn on wrist showing weather for Montreal.

The Apple Watch has been the subject of everything from speculation to ridicule during its relatively short tenure on this planet. While most have nothing but praise for the most recent iteration, that praise comes at a cost: The Apple Watch’s ghost of Christmas past.

Or, to put it more literally, the fact that the Apple Watch’s prior version and accompanying variations are too good—and, at this point, too comparatively cheap—to warrant buying the most recent (and expensive) option.

Sure, the Apple Watch Series 6 has a bevy of health features—a sensor that can take an ECG and a blood oxygen test, to name a couple—but the Series 5 has almost everything else that makes the Apple Watch Series 6 “notable.” According to Gear Patrol, even the Series 4 is comparable if you don’t mind forgoing the option to have the Apple Watch’s screen on all of the time.

More pressingly, Gear Patrol points out, is the availability of discount options from Apple. The Apple Watch Series 3 and Apple Watch SE are, at this point, budget options that still do the job for smart watch enthusiasts.

Not to mention any Apple Watch can run updates can utilize Apple’s Fitness Plus subscription—another selling point that, despite its lucrative potential, doesn’t justify buying a $400 watch when a cheaper option is present.

It’s worth noting that Apple is no stranger to outdoing themselves retroactively. Every year, Apple’s “new” MacBook, iPhone, and iPad models are subjected to extensive benchmarking by every tech goatee around. And the conclusion is usually that buying a generation or two behind is fine—and, from a financial perspective, smart.

And yet, as the holidays roll around or the initial drop date of a new product arrives, Apple invariably goes through inventory like a tabby cat through unattended butter.

The Apple Watch is already a parody of itself, yet its immense popularity and subtle innovation has promoted it through several generations and a few spin-off iterations. And that’s not even including the massive Apple-specific watch band market that appears to have popped up as a result.

Say what you will about the Series 6; when the chips are on the table, my money’s on the consumers making the same decisions they always make.

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Microsoft acquires powerful AI language processor GPT-3, to what end?

(TECH NEWS) This powerful AI language processor sounds surprisingly human, and Microsoft has acquired rights to the code. How much should we worry?

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Code on screen, powering AI technology

The newly-released GPT-3 is the most insane language model in the NLP (natural language processor) field of machine learning. Developed by OpenAI, GPT-3 can generate strikingly human-like text for a vast range of purposes like bots and advertising, to poetry and creative writing.

While GPT-3 is accessible to everyone, OpenAI has expressed concerns over using this AI tech for insidious purposes. For this reason, Microsoft’s new exclusive license on the GPT-3 language model may be a tad worrisome.

First of all, for those unfamiliar with the NPL field, software engineer, and Youtuber, Aaron Jack, provides a detailed overview of GPT-3’s capabilities and why everyone should be paying attention.

Microsoft’s deal with OpenAI should come as little surprise since OpenAI uses the Azure cloud platform to access enough information to train their models.

Microsoft chief technology officer Kevin Scott announced the deal on the company blog this week: “We see this as an incredible opportunity to expand our Azure-powered AI platform in a way that democratizes AI technology, enables new products, services and experiences, and increases the positive impact of AI at Scale,” said Scott.

“Our mission at Microsoft is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more, so we want to make sure that this AI platform is available to everyone – researchers, entrepreneurs, hobbyists, businesses – to empower their ambitions to create something new and interesting.”

OpenAI has assured that Microsoft’s exclusive license does not affect the general public’s access to the GPT-3 model. The difference is Microsoft will be able to use the source code to combine with their products.

While OpenAI needs Azure to train these models, handing over the source code to another party is, to put it mildly, tricky. With the earlier GPT-2 model, OpenAI initially refused publishing the research out of fear it could be used to generate fake news and propaganda.

Though the company found there was no evidence to suggest the GPT-2 was utilized this way and later released the information, handing the key of the exponentially more powerful iteration to one company will undoubtedly hold ramifications in the tech world.

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Tech News

What is UI/UX? Take a little time to learn for free!

(TECH NEWS) For the all-time low price of—well, free—Invise gives you the option of learning a few basic UI and UX design techniques.

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Woman browsing web, made easy with UI/UX

There’s no denying the strong impact UI and UX design has on the success of a website, app, or service—and, thanks to some timely altruism, you can add basic design understanding to your résumé for free.

Invise is a self-described beginner’s guide to the UI/UX field, and while they do not purport to deliver expert knowledge or “paid courses”, the introduction overview alone is pretty hefty.

The best part—aside from the “free” aspect—is how simple it is to get a copy of the guide: You enter your email address on the Invise website, click the appropriate button, and the guide is yours after a quick email verification.

According to Invise, their beginner’s guide to UI and UX covers everything from color theory and typography to layout, research principles, and prototyping. They even include a segment on tools and resources to use for optimal UI/UX work so that you don’t have to take any risks on dicey software.

UI—short for “user interface”—and UX, or “user experience”, are two critical design aspects found in everything from websites to app and video game menus. As anyone who has ever picked up an outdated smartphone knows, a janky presentation of options or—worse yet—a lack of intuitive menus can break a user’s experience far faster than slow hardware.

Similarly, if you’re looking to retain customers who visit your website or blog, presenting their options to them in a jarring or unfamiliar way—or selecting colors that clash for your landing page—can be just as fatal as not having a website to begin with.

The overarching problem, then, becomes one of cost. Hiring a design expert is expensive and can be time-consuming, so Invise is a welcome alternative—and, as a bonus, you don’t have to dictate your company’s vision to a stranger and hope that they “get it” if you’re doing your own design work.

2020 probably isn’t the year to break the bank on design choices, but the importance of UI and UX in your business can’t be overstated. If you have time to read up on some design basics and a small budget for a few of the bare-bones tools, you can take a relatively educated shot at putting together a modern, desirable interface.

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