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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.

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China no longer dependent on U.S. for smartphone components

(TECH NEWS) Trump’s trade war, more specifically, the ban on shipping phone components, to China has begun to take a toll on chip manufacturing.

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Once upon a time, the U.S. and China were buddies, exporting and importing from each other with ease. However, President Trump’s recent actions regarding trade with China is certainly putting a damper on things.

It seems that Chinese companies have moved past the need to import certain products, like smartphone chips, from the U.S. – something they previously relied heavily on by working with American companies like Qorvo, Inc. in North Carolina, Skyworks, Inc. in Massachusetts, Broadcom, Inc. in California, and Cirrus Logic in Texas.

Since the ban in May, Trump specifically barred shipments from the U.S. from companies like Qualcomm and Intel Corp to companies like Chinese tech conglomerate, Huawei Technologies Co. But much like the bans that came before the Trump administration, it didn’t last long. With tensions high, the U.S. actually recently started rolling back some aspects of the ban and started making exceptions that allow American tech companies to continue to work with Chinese companies like Huawei.

Of course, China’s lack of U.S. parts hasn’t stopped them from rolling out new and improved products. As a matter of fact, in September, Huawei unveiled its newest phone, the Mate 30, which boasts highly-desired features, such as a curved screen and a wide angle camera. This makes the phone a pretty solid competitor of Apple’s newest iPhone, the iPhone 11, of which China was sent 10 million of in September and October.

After Huawei’s announcement, investment and banking firm UBS, and Japanese technology lab Fomalhaut Techno Solutions, partnered up and took to their labs to analyze the phone’s components. Their analysis was simple and straightforward. They found that there were absolutely zero American components in the phone. In fact, the chips in the Mate 30 are actually from Huawei’s in-house chip design agency, HiSilicon. They also provided Huawei with WiFi and Bluetooth chips. With HiSilicon’s 20 + years experience in the industry, 200+ chipsets, and 8000+ patents, it’s no wonder U.S. chip companies are getting nervous. Qualcomm, for example, announced a 31-40% decrease in estimated chip shipments over the next year.

Although the chip ban has made a big impact on larger U.S. companies who make and supply chips to China, there are still many other businesses that have been affected in Trump’s trade war. As it happens, U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross recently confessed that, since May, when the ban was put in place, the U.S. has received at least 260 requests, asking that they excuse them from the ban and be allowed to work with China as they previously had.

But really, at the end of the day, with so many American companies relying on China for both import and export, it’s probable that the ban will be short-lived and that exceptions won’t need to be made. As Americans, we can be hopeful that the end-result of this trade war will be a positive one, but only time will tell.

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AI cameras could cut down traffic deaths, but there may be flaws

(TECH NEWS) Traffic accidents have plagued humanity since motor vehicles were created, can AI help cut down on text and drive incidents?

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What if we told you Australian officials believe they have found a way to reduce driving deaths by almost 30% in just two years? It’s a pretty appealing concept. After all, Australia alone faces an average of over 3 deaths a day due to driving accidents. And Australia’s average death rate clocks in at just half of what we face in the United States.

There’s just one problem with Australia’s proposed solution: it’s basically Big Brother.

Basically, Australia plans to use AI cameras to catch people texting and driving. There are plenty of places that have outlawed texting and driving, but that rule is very hard to enforce – it basically means catching someone in the act. With AI cameras, hands free driving can be monitored and fined.

Australia has already started rolling out some of these systems in South Wales. Because this is a new initiative, first time offenses will be let off with a warning. The following offenses can add up quickly, though, with fines anywhere from $233 to $309 USD. After a six month trial period, this program is projected to expand significantly.

But there are real concerns with this project.

Surprisingly, privacy isn’t one of these worries. Sure, “AI cameras built to monitor individuals” sounds like a plot point from 1984, but it’s not quite as dire as it seems. First, many places already have traffic cameras in order to catch things like people running red lights. More importantly, though, is the fact these machines aren’t being trained to identify faces. Instead, the machine learning for the cameras will focus on aspects of distracted driving, like hands off the wheel.

The bigger concern is what will come from placing the burden of proof on drivers. Because machine learning isn’t perfect, it will be paired with humans who will review the tagged photographs in order to eliminate false positives. The problem is, humans aren’t perfect either. There’s bound to be false positives to fall through the cracks.

Some worry that the imperfect system will slow down the judicial system as more people go to court over traffic violations they believe are unfair. Others are concerned that some indicators for texting while driving (such as hands off the wheel) might not simply apply texting. What if, for instance, someone was passing a phone to the back seat? Changing the music? There are subtleties that might not be able to be captured in a photograph or identified by an AI.

No matter what you think of the system, however, only time can tell if the project will be effective.

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DeepComposer: AWS’ piano keyboard turns AI up to 11

(TECH NEWS) Amazon has been busy with machine learning, which includes a camera, a car, and now DeepComposer that’s able to add to classics on the fly

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Musicians, listen up, there’s a new kid in town, its name is DeepComposer and it’s coming to take your creativity and turn it up to 11.

Artificial Intelligence has taken a leap into what has long been considered the “pinnacle of human creativity”, as Amazon revealed what is said to be the world’s first machine learning-enabled keyboard capable of creating music.

Amazon unveiled its AWS DeepComposer keyboard Monday during AWS re:Invent, a learning conference Amazon Web Services hosted for the global cloud computing community in Las Vegas.

Demonstrating DeepComposer’s abilities, Dr. Matt Wood, Amazon’s VP of Artificial Intelligence, played a snippet of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” and then let the keyboard riff on it with drums, synthesizer, guitar, and bass, sharing a more rockin’ version of the masterpiece.

Generative AI, is considered by scientists at MIT to be one of the most promising advances in AI in the past decade, Wood told the crowd. Generative AI allows for a machine not only to learn from example, as a human would but to take it next level and connect the dots, making the next creative step to composing something completely new.

“It [Generative AI] opens the door to an entire world of possibilities for human and computer creativity, with practical applications emerging across industries, from turning sketches into images for accelerated product development, to improving computer-aided design of complex objects, Amazon said on its AWS re:Invent website.

How does it work? The Generative AI technique pits two different neural networks against each other to produce new and original digital works based on sample inputs, according to Amazon. The generator creates, the discriminator provides feedback for tweaks and together they create “exquisite music”, Wood explained.

A user inputs a melody on the keyboard, then using the console they choose the genre, rock, classical, pop, jazz or create your own and voila, you have a new piece of music. Then, if so desired users can share their creations with the world through SoundCloud.

This is the third machine learning teaching device Amazon has made available, according to TechCrunch. It introduced the DeepLens camera in 2017 and in 2018 the DeepRacer racing cars. DeepComposer isn’t available just yet, but AWS account holders can sign up for a preview once it is.

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