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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?



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.”


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.


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

Snap a business card pic, Microsoft app finds ’em on LinkedIn

(TECH NEWS) Microsoft Pix is teaming with LinkedIn in a neat way that will benefit networking, especially if you have any lazy bones in your body.



microsoft pix

Have you ever been watching some sort of action-adventure movie where there’s a command center with all sorts of unbelievable technology that kind of blows your mind? Well, every day we come closer and closer to living within that command center.

You may think that I’m talkin’ crazy, but check this out – there is a new technology that can scan a business card, and find the business card’s owner on LinkedIn. (Can I get a “say what????!”)

This app is courtesy of Microsoft and goes by the name Pix (it’s not new, but this function is).

The way it works is simple: Bill Jones hands you his business card, you fire up the Pix app (currently only on the iPhone. Sorry, Droids), you snap a picture of the card and the app takes the details (phone number, company, etc.) and finds Bill on LinkedIn. Bingo.

It also will automatically take that information and will create a new profile for Bill Jones within your phone’s contacts. After you scan the business card through Pix, Microsoft will ask if you want to take action.

At this point, Pix will recognize and capture phone numbers, email addresses, and URLs. If your phone is logged into LinkedIn, the apps will work together to find Bill’s profile. Part of me wants to think that this is kind of creepy but a larger part of me thinks that it’s really cool.

According to Microsoft Research’s Principal Program Manager, Josh Weisberg, “Pix is powered by AI to streamline and enhance the experience of taking a picture with a series of intelligent actions: recognizing the subject of a photo, inferring users’ intent and capturing the best quality picture.”

“It’s the combination of both understanding and intelligently acting on a users’ intent that sets Pix apart. Today’s update works with LinkedIn to add yet another intelligent dimension to Pix’s capabilities.”

Pix itself originally launched in 2016 as a way to compete against AI’s ability to edit a photo by use of exposure, focus, and color. This new integration in working with LinkedIn is a time saver, and is beneficial for those who collect business cards like candy and forget to actually do something with them.

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Walmart and the blockchain, sitting in a tree

(TECH NEWS) Say goodbye to #foodwaste with Walmart’s new smart package delivery proposal featuring everyone’s favorite pal, blockchain.




Following the trend of adding “smart” as a prefix to any word to make it futuristic, Walmart now proposes “smart packages.” The retail giant filed for a new patent to improve their shipping and package tracking process using blockchain.

Last week, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) released the application, which was filed back in August 2017.

Officially, the application notes the smart package will have “a body portion having an inner volume” and “a door coupled to the body portion” that can be open or closed to restrict or allow access to the package contents.

In other words, they’ve patented a box with a door on it that also has lots of monitoring devices.

Various iterations lay claim to all versions of said box include smart packaging utilizing a combination of monitoring devices, modular adapters, autonomous delivery vehicles, and blockchain.

Monitoring devices would regulate location tracking, inner content removal, and environmental conditions of the package like temperature and humidity. This could help reduce loss of products sensitive to environmental changes, like fresh produce.

Modular adapters perform these actions as well, and also ensure the package has access to a power source and the delivery vehicle’s security system to prevent theft.

Blockchain comes into play with a delivery encryption system, monitoring, authenticating, and registering packages. As it moves through the supply chain, packages will be registered throughout the process.

The blockchain would be hashed with private key addresses of sellers, couriers, and buyers to track the chain of custody. Every step of the shipping process would be documented, providing greater accountability and easier record keeping.

This isn’t Walmart’s first foray into the world of blockchain. Last year they teamed up with Nestle, Kroger, and other food companies in a partnership with IBM to improve food traceability with blockchain.

Walmart also took part in a similar food tracking program in China with last year as well.

And let’s not forget Walmart’s May 2017 USPTO application to use blockchain tech for package delivery via unmanned drones. Their more recent application builds on the drone idea, which also proposed tracking packages with blockchain and monitoring product conditions during delivery.

In their latest application, Walmart notes, “online customers many times seek to purchase items that may require a controlled environment and further seek to have greater security in the shipping packaging that the items are shipped in.”

Implementing blockchain and smart package monitoring as part of the shipping process could greatly reduce product loss and improve shipment tracking.

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Experts warn of actual AI risks – we’re about to live in a sci fi movie

(TECH NEWS) A new report on AI indicates that the sci fi dystopias we’ve been dreaming up are actually possible. Within a few short years. Welp.



AI robots

Long before artificial intelligence (AI) was even a real thing, science fiction novels and films have warned us about the potentially catastrophic dangers of giving machines too much power.

Now that AI actually exists, and in fact, is fairly widespread, it may be time to consider some of the potential drawbacks and dangers of the technology, before we find ourselves in a nightmarish dystopia the likes of which we’ve only begun to imagine.

Experts from the industry as well as academia have done exactly that, in a recently released 100-page report, “The Malicious Use of Artificial Intelligence: Forecasting, Prevention, Mitigation.”

The report was written by 26 experts over the course of a two-day workshop held in the UK last month. The authors broke down the potential negative uses of artificial intelligence into three categories – physical, digital, or political.

In the digital category are listed all of the ways that hackers and other criminals can use these advancements to hack, phish, and steal information more quickly and easily. AI can be used to create fake emails and websites for stealing information, or to scan software for potential vulnerabilities much more quickly and efficiently than a human can. AI systems can even be developed specifically to fool other AI systems.

Physical uses included AI-enhanced weapons to automate military and/or terrorist attacks. Commercial drones can be fitted with artificial intelligence programs, and automated vehicles can be hacked for use as weapons. The report also warns of remote attacks, since AI weapons can be controlled from afar, and, most alarmingly, “robot swarms” – which are, horrifyingly, exactly what they sound like.

Read also: Is artificial intelligence going too far, moving too quickly?

Lastly, the report warned that artificial intelligence could be used by governments and other special interest entities to influence politics and generate propaganda.

AI systems are getting creepily good at generating faked images and videos – a skill that would make it all too easy to create propaganda from scratch. Furthermore, AI can be used to find the most important and vulnerable targets for such propaganda – a potential practice the report calls “personalized persuasion.” The technology can also be used to squash dissenting opinions by scanning the internet and removing them.

The overall message of the report is that developments in this technology are “dual use” — meaning that AI can be created that is either helpful to humans, or harmful, depending on the intentions of the people programming it.

That means that for every positive advancement in AI, there could be a villain developing a malicious use of the technology. Experts are already working on solutions, but they won’t know exactly what problems they’ll have to combat until those problems appear.

The report concludes that all of these evil-minded uses for these technologies could easily be achieved within the next five years. Buckle up.

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