musings on music and life

May 17, 2016

On learning to code

Filed under: Coding, Data Science, education — sankirnam @ 11:05 am

Last week, the following article was published in TechCrunch: Please don’t learn to Code. This was swiftly followed by Quincy Larson’s reply, Please do learn to code.

For those who don’t know, Quincy Larson is the founder and director of FreeCodeCamp, an online programming education website that is disrupting the traditional paradigm of teaching programming/ CS. I’m going through it myself, and highly recommend it for anyone who wants to learn programming – the front-end web development curriculum is very well done, and it walks you through HTML, CSS (including responsive design with Bootstrap), JQuery, and JavaScript. Even if you do not necessarily want to go into webdev, this is a good place to start; it has you make projects to really cement your knowledge. Until I did this program, I had no idea how to make a website from scratch with HTML and CSS!

In any case, with regards to the articles I linked at the beginning, I am siding with Quincy Larson on the issue. Computers and digital devices are ubiquitous in our lives nowadays, and we spend at least 5 hours or more (a very conservative estimate) a day interacting with computers, whether it is in the form of desktop computers, servers, laptops, tablets, or mobile smartphones. Knowing how to use these devices is one thing, but that is the bare minimum; if you want to be truly productive in today’s society, you need to be able to get these devices to work for you, and that is where a knowledge of programming comes into the picture. In addition, with the rise of machine learning and increased automation, we’re beginning to see an increased number of jobs that were traditionally done by humans now being done by computers. This automation is beginning to seep into areas that are considered “high-skill”, such as organic synthesis. Thus, it’s like I say nowadays:

You don’t want to lose your job because someone else automates your position, right? You would rather be in a position where you automate someone else’s job. The only way to ensure that you are in the latter position is to learn programming/computer science.

The beauty of the field of programming/computer science is that it is extremely egalitarian, compared to other fields. In the programming arena, people care only about what you’ve done, what you’ve accomplished, and whether you know your stuff or not; educational pedigree is largely irrelevant. Contrast this to a field like organic chemistry, where if you do not have a degree from MIT/Caltech/Harvard/Stanford/Berkeley your resume will be swiftly thrown in the trash. This is why, in CS, it is now accepted that a GitHub profile is the new resume.

In other news, I have been applying to bootcamps for the last few weeks, in order to have something do this summer given that the job situation in organic chemistry continues to remain abysmal. I know I have been scornful of bootcamps and “data science” in the past, but my reason for applying to these places is simple. I could learn the material on my own for free (or a significantly reduced cost), but it would take a long time – at least a year or two. If I can accelerate the process and learn everything in 12 weeks, then it is worth the extra cash, and after all, time is the most valuable asset we have in our lives. This video explains it pretty well:

After interviewing at several places, I was accepted to Codesmith, Logit Data Science, and Dev Bootcamp. I’ve decided to go with Logit Data Science simply because it makes more sense given my background; going into full-stack web development is orthogonal to my past education. There are pros and cons to all decisions; Logit is cheaper, but I’m going to be in the first cohort, so it remains to be seen how good the program is going to be. Also, given that my CS, math, and statistics backgrounds are very minimal, I’m anticipating that this is going to be extremely challenging. But sometimes, succeeding in life is all about risks and taking that first leap of faith! Codesmith is a little better established; they’ve been around for a year. I visited their campus/office a couple of weeks ago in Playa Vista, and was very impressed. The atmosphere is quite relaxed, but I did feel the “work hard, play hard” spirit there. The CEO, Will Sentance, is one of the main instructors there, and his teaching style is absolutely fantastic. He explains all the concepts thoroughly and clearly, and his enthusiasm for the subject is infectious. If you’re considering joining a full-stack bootcamp, I highly recommend Codesmith – do check them out! They are up there with Hack Reactor in terms of quality of instruction and overall experience.



  1. Good luck there! I am sure you will be successful. I wish I had time to do a bootcamp too. Still learning by myself.

    Comment by chemdiary — May 18, 2016 @ 5:56 pm

  2. Arjun, Interesting read. Thanks for the link to the code bootcamps and the HTML/CSS online courses. As it happens, I suddenly find myself in the realm of the unemployed as well, unfortunately being a part of the swathe of 12k people being let go by Intel.
    I am doing some writing as well – at If possible, please do take a look…any feedback will be very valuable 🙂

    Comment by Sharatchandra Bhargav — May 31, 2016 @ 11:04 am

    • Sharat, sorry to hear about the layoffs! I hope you are able to find a position soon, and hope this is only a temporary situation.

      Also, your writing is really nice, keep it up!

      Comment by sankirnam — May 31, 2016 @ 1:20 pm

  3. […] continued working on JavaScript and FreeCodeCamp while applying to programming bootcamps in April-May 2016, and eventually ended up taking a “Data Science” bootcamp by Logit in […]

    Pingback by My experiences with learning “Data Science” in 2016 | musings on music and life — December 16, 2016 @ 11:21 pm

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