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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

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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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The semantic argument of the phrase ‘Full Stack’

(TECH NEWS) As the tech industry knows, being able to classify your job qualifications is paramount.

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Semantics

A new debate is emerging in the web development world and it’s not about which framework is best, or which language is most marketable.

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In fact the debate isn’t a matter of code, it’s a matter of words.

It’s Not Just About Experience Level

“Full Stack Developer” is the title developers both new and old often use to describe themselves. According to a Stack Overflow developer survey touted as the “most comprehensive developer survey conducted” the title is among the top five respondents used to describe themselves.

However, not everyone thinks newer developers should adopt the title.

It would be easy to distill the debate to a matter of experience level, veterans earned the “full stack” title, while newer programmers haven’t. However, there’s way more layers to this debate.

What Exactly is Full Stack

First of all, a simple google search reveals several different definitions of “full stack.” There’s general consensus when it comes to the high-level definition. CodeUp sums up this definition, “The term full stack means developers who are comfortable working with both back-end and front-end technologies.”

When it comes down to the nitty-gritty of what exactly falls under back-end and front-end, there’s some disagreement.

Mastery level also matters, but again there’s disagreement over what’s acceptable. In one camp, are the proficiency pushers who require not only a breadth of understanding, but also a depth of understanding in multiple areas.

In this camp, it’s not just good enough to have exposure to SQL, one must have proficiency in SQL.

In the other camp, are the generalist. They also require a breadth of knowledge, but are happy with a basic familiarity of each stack element. When it comes to debating whether newer developers should adopt the full stack title, the lack of clarity on what full stack means in the first place is a major stumbling block.

Why Full Stack?

Besides clarifying the what behind “full stack” some folks are also clarifying the why. According to Indeed’s job trends, the number of postings and searches matching “full stack developer” on average has trended upwards since 2012 . The title’s popularity causes some to believe that new developers are adopting the title as a buzzword with no real care put into understanding what “full stack” means.

Android Programmer Dan Kim from Basecamp warns, “Just don’t fall back to labeling yourself with a bullshit buzzword that everyone else uses.”

For others, adopting the full stack title is a matter of mindset. As Web developer Christian Maioli over at TechBeacon writes: “To me, a full stack developer is someone who has the curiosity and drive to test the limits of a technology and understand how each piece works generally in various scenarios. Having this mindset will give developers more value and more power in dealing with new situations.”

In both cases, understanding why a new developer adopts the full stack title is connected to understanding whether they’re overselling their skills and how valuable their skills are to a potential employer.

Beyond Job Titles

Finally, this debate about whether new developers should use the “full stack” title brings up the need for alternative methods of measuring proficiency. This need isn’t limited to the web development world, as technology innovates job titles become convoluted.

A job title won’t be the most reliable way to communicate what you bring to a job or what you expect.Click To Tweet

Quantifying what you’ve accomplished in the past, along with what tools you used will be critical in a time where job titles aren’t trusted.

This story was first published here on April 7, 2017.

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We’ve all seen job listings for UX writers, but what exactly is UX writing?

(TECH NEWS) We seeing UX writer titles pop up and while UX writing is not technically new, there are new availabilities popping up.

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The work of a UX writer is something you come across everyday. Whether you’re hailing an Uber or browsing Spotify for that one Drake song, your overall user experience is affected by the words you read at each touchpoint.

A UX writer facilitates a smooth interaction between user and product at each of these touchpoints through carefully chosen words.

Some of the most common touchpoints UX writers work on are interface copy, emails and notifications. It doesn’t sound like the most thrilling stuff, but imagine using your favorite apps without all the thoughtful confirmation messages we take for granted. Take Eat24’s food delivery app, instead of a boring loading visual, users get a witty message like “smoking salmon” or “slurping noodles.”

Eat24’s app has UX writing that works because it’s engaging.

Xfinity’s mobile app provides a pleasant user experience by being intuitive. Shows that are available on your phone are clearly labeled under “Available Out of Home.” I’m bummed that Law & Order: SVU isn’t available, but thanks to thoughtful UX writing at least I knew that sad fact ahead of time.

Regardless of where you find a UX writer’s work, there are three traits an effective UX writer must have. Excellent communication skills is a must. The ability to empathize with the user is on almost every job post.

But from my own experience working with UX teams, I’d argue for the ability to advocate as the most important skill.

UX writers may have a very specialized mission, but they typically work within a greater UX design team. In larger companies some UX writers even work with a smaller team of fellow writers. Decisions aren’t made in isolation. You can be the wittiest writer, with a design decision based on obsessive user research, but if you can’t advocate for those decisions then what’s the point?

I mentioned several soft skills, but that doesn’t mean aspiring UX writers can’t benefit from developing a few specific tech skills. While the field doesn’t require a background in web development, UX writers often collaborate with engineering teams. Learning some basic web development principles such as responsive design can help writers create a better user experience across all devices. In a world of rapid prototyping, I’d also suggest learning a few prototyping apps. Several are free to try and super intuitive.

Now that the UX in front of writer no longer intimidates you, go check out ADJ, The American Genius’ Facebook Group for Austin digital job seekers and employers. User centered design isn’t going anywhere and with everyone getting into the automation game, you can expect even more opportunities in UX writing.

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Loopy is the new easy tool that helps explain hard ideas

(TECH NEWS) Loopy is a tool that can revolutionize how we explain anything from personal ideas to business complexities.

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In a world filled with complex systems, Loopy serves as a tool for people to take their time understanding them.

The tool allows users to create interactive simulations to help people explain their ways of thinking.

Loopy has found a way for people to interact with simulations without complicated code or overused drag and drop. You can create your own or collaborate with other simulations already made on the site.

It is a great way to challenge yourself while learning how each system works.

Loopy encourages you to ask hypothetical questions to better understand the systems. The model consists of circles and arrows to remain uncomplicated. When you remix or interact with simulations that were made by other users, it is as if you are having a conversation via the simulations. Loopy describes this as “talking in systems” which makes the entire experience more impactful.

Though Loopy can be used as a fun way to exercise your brain, it also has practical implications. For instance, simulations can be embedded into blog posts, live lectures and presentations. You can also develop videos to further explain complex ideas.

This is especially useful for businesses who want to simplify their models when communicating with investors and consumers.

Simulations can be a fun way to illustrate your thoughts and support your ideas. Businesses can use Loopy to create collaborative activities for their employees to mess around with as well.

The best part is that anyone can try it out for free. On their site, you can develop your own simulations or adjust ones that have already been made.

At its core, Loopy is simulation software.

However, their goal is to give everyone the tools that they need to understand complex systems. This goes for both the creators and the viewers, who are all a part of the process.

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