Is Coding Becoming An Essential Creative Skill?

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With Apple’s release of a new programming language the debate surrounding the importance of learning to code has sprung to life again as well. But how important is it really? And are we asking ourselves the right question?

Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference unveiled a new programming language: Swift. The appeal of the language is that supposedly makes programming easier than ever. This may close the gap a bit between those who can code and those who cannot.

Learning how to program is a very hot topic and finding online programming courses is easier than ever. As a result there is more and more pressure for people employed in the creative sector to ask themselves “should I learn to code?”. And what does the question really mean? Does it mean you need to be fully adept at coding everything and master many programming languages? If you don’t learn to program is there a future for you in the digital creative world? Or is it more important to understand coding and processes to be able to communicate with a progammer instead?

If you look at the skill itself then you could say that learning a new skill is always an asset. And if we stay in the realm of languages there is no argument to be made that learning German, French or Chinese is not an asset. Knowing one or more programming language these days is a valuable and marketable skill.

From a creative point of view however is it really necessary? In other words, is the added value really that big? The answer, as so often, depends. It depends on how you define coding. If you look at it as a medium like music or film you might be inclined to say no as you view it as a completely separate way of expressing your creativity. If you look at it as a form of literacy or a human language you might see it as an essential way of using a tool to expand the reach of your creative expression.

The question “should I learn how to code” is not the right question. The real question is two-fold “why do I need to understand code?” and “do I want to do it myself?”. These two questions are essential when it comes to acquiring the skill of coding. The answers are  based on how much programming is involved in your work. For example, if your work has no real interactive design the need to code may be minimal and thus it will not be an essential skill. You will probably outsource the little amount of programming required.

If there is coding required then, depending on how your creative process works, it could be very beneficial to learn how to code. You may want to keep full control of your processes, including the developer part, because it allows you to create an output that is exactly what you want. Secondly, from a creative point the world of programming is full of unintended results, which may further the creative output. Being in control of the coding gives you the opportunity to turn “errors” into fantastic and innovative ideas.

If you’d rather collaborate with others knowing how to code is still an invaluable asset. The reason is understanding and communication. And communication is perhaps the most important reason to want to know about coding. Learning how to code also means learning to think like a developer. It helps translating want you want (output) into better requirements of what needs to be coded and what you want the end result to be.

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