Before You Learn How to Code, Problem-solve like a Designer


At some point in their lives, adults often gain an interest in further learning. And with the disruption brought about by the pandemic, more people are discovering that it’s an effective way of turning enforced isolation and extra spare time into growth and productivity.

However, adults approach learning differently. We often seek to acquire skills that translate to value in our lives. Younger people might take voice lessons to sing, but older people enroll in order to develop their speaking confidence.

Among other things, such emphasis on value has led many workers in today’s world to consider the advantages of learning how to code. After all, coding is often touted as a skill for the 21st century. And our lives are so immersed in technology, it’s hard to deny that implicit association.

If you learn how to code, you’ll become more employable. You can continue to thrive in a changing world where technology becomes more sophisticated each day. But how true is that assumption?

How coding equates to power

In a matter of years, smartphones have gone from optional to essential. Every business not only has a website but accounts across various social media platforms. At the same time, the underlying technology is becoming steeped in arcana. We, the end-users, are getting separated from the workings of our devices by a gulf in knowledge.

The average person probably uses several devices each day without really understanding how they work. They know how to operate them, but couldn’t explain how information gets relayed across the internet, let alone the difference between JavaScript and HTML.

This combination of power and mystery makes it highly compelling to argue that coding gives you an advantage. Policy-makers in education are working to integrate it into the curriculum for children. And certainly, spreading the knowledge of how to code across future generations will help more young and talented individuals log the hours of practice and instruction they need. For those kids, learning to code will eventually pay off.


It doesn’t stand on its own

But the promise of coding is limited because many people are taking an incomplete approach to it as a skill. Coding is nothing more than learning a specific language. Unlike a real language, in this case, you’re basically talking to machines. Yet much like learning a real language, knowing the rules of grammar and having a deep vocabulary doesn’t guarantee you have anything interesting to say.

The skill you really need to focus on is problem-solving. Coding doesn’t exist in a vacuum; it isn’t all that useful on its own. Developers write code because they are attempting to solve a problem. If you aren’t doing that, you’re only a hobbyist, and you can’t really expect to gain any tangible career advantage from learning how to code.

Solve problems like a designer

So if you’re determined to break into a programming field, or simply want to apply some insights from that into your native domain, learning to code won’t be enough. One thing that can help? Start thinking more like a designer.

Designers can work across a wide range of specializations. They help develop products, improving user experiences in everything from apps to apparel. We feel their influence at work in countless ways each day without even noticing it.

A common saying among designers is that “good design is invisible.” You probably don’t notice how much less effort is required to turn a door handle as opposed to a knob. Or how comfortable a good chair is until you spend time sitting in a poorly designed one. This doesn’t happen by accident.

Designers in every field make it their job to solve problems. They do so by empathizing with users and identifying their core needs. Then they proceed to come up with a variety of ideas, before turning a critical gaze toward each one and evaluating if it’s a feasible solution for a specific application.

From there, the designer’s job is to continue testing and refining the progressively narrow field of ideas until arriving at the perfect solution. Mostly, it’s at this stage in the process that execution really starts to be a factor. Only here will your coding skill come into play.

Learning to code is a potentially valuable use of your spare time. But as an adult learner, you need to recognize what will help you to really apply it effectively in order to gain an advantage. It needs to go hand-in-hand with efforts to step up as a problem-solver. And in that regard, you might be better off studying the principles of good design, with a little coding on the side.

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