Should Everyone Learn To Code?

Real Arters respond to a key conundrum of modern day computing.

There’s a game we sometimes play at Real Art HQ, called the Code vs Design Challenge, wherein a designer and a programmer switch roles and tackle imaginary projects. Designers have had to make tick-tack-toe games and cause hypothetical robots to collide. A back-end developer was asked to design the brand materials for a fictional Finnish music festival. The results? Well, they aren’t usually pretty. But these face-offs have revealed a rift in the biz: while few of us think that everyone needs to know the ins and out of leading or kerning, a significant number believe that programming knowledge is as essential to modern life as knowing how to swipe a touchscreen. To dig into these opinions, we conducted a highly official and scientific poll asking Real Arters to answer a simple yes or no question: should everyone learn how to code?

Program or Be Programmed

The responses ranged from a single yay or “neigh” to more in-depth and nuanced replies. A few saw programming as a key aspect of our changing world, one that can not only improve the programmer’s daily life but will also come in handy when dealing with our future robot overlords. But why design GUIs if everyone knows how to code in C++?

I absolutely believe everyone should learn how to code. Knowing even basic coding skills can be helpful in any career. At a former job, I saw some scary processes done manually or with Excel sheets that were drastically improved with some simple programming.”
— Ben Green, Back-End Developer

I don’t think everyone needs to learn how to code. Modern technology is designed to be so intuitive that there’s really no need for an average person, even one who uses that technology regularly, to understand how it works. That being said, a person who’s equipped with a little of that knowledge can have a better experience.”
— Cassandra O’Connell, Graphic Designer

Code is the first truly universal language that both transcends countries and cultures and—more importantly—includes machines, our soon-to-be superior species.” — Chris Wire, President and “fearless leader”

Programmers are the new Plumbers

A surprising number of Real Arters place coding in the same realm as plumbing, electrician work, and other skilled trades. They see it as a specialized knowledge set that the general population doesn’t need to have. Maybe the association isn’t all that surprising if you spend your free time hanging out with Mario and Luigi.

It’s probably about as important for everyone to learn programming as it is for everyone to learn plumbing.” — Gary Riggins, Software Engineer

Just because almost every house has an appliance that uses water, not everyone needs to learn plumbing. I do believe that everyone should be exposed to coding the same way they are electricity, with batteries and light bulbs in school, but that should be the extent of the “forced” knowledge.” — Nathan Sizemore, UX Software Engineer

I view it as something that might be handy, similar to being able to fix your car or mend your clothes or fix a toilet – not strictly necessary, but it’s very helpful to understand it on some basic level.”
— John Nesbitt, Presentation Layer Developer

For the Love of Code

Another common mode of code-reasoning is based in the understanding that not everyone thinks programming is fun. Therefore, they should not be required to learn it. I wish that logic had worked on my 10th grade math teacher.

Anyone can learn simple code but not everyone enjoys it. I taught the web design class at UD for 4 semesters and I can say that with authority.” — Andy Nick, Design Director

Not if you aren’t interested in it or if you have no need to do so.”
— Casie Lord, Human Resources

When I did code a little (a while ago) I really didn’t enjoy it. There are so many people who are better / quicker and enjoy it more, I’ll leave it up to them.” — Andrew Althouse, Graphic Designer

Designer Code

In terms of the design field, at least, many at Real Art believe that a general understanding of programming is a valuable asset that can help make design work more successful. Others think that trying to code and design would take up too much headspace to be very good at either.

It seems like coding is a master craft…or should be for the level of expertise that we offer our clients. I think we should be developing programming experts.” — Betsy McFaddin, Senior Producer

If you’re going to become a web or app designer, I think you absolutely should learn to code (at least the basics). That just helps everyone involved.” — Shelby White, Front-End Developer

I think it is very valuable in our field to know a little at least. It helps the thought process for designing when you know what can be done with it.” — Sara Hinegardner, Interactive Designer

I don’t think everyone should learn how to code. It’s a helpful skill set, but particularly for designers, I think it can impede or alter the creative process. Having said that, it’s nice when each person has a little experience with the next link in the design chain.”
— Brian Stephens, Front-End Developer

The Numbers

Across the company, there is a remarkably even split between those who think that everyone should learn the basics of code and those who think that would be just plain ridiculous. But with 45% of the vote, the definitive “No”s outnumber the definitive “Yes”s by 2 to 1. Twenty-six percent of responders gave a “Yes-ish” vote, qualifying their answer by saying something like “an introduction to programming should be a required subject in public school” or that “most people should have a general familiarity with code.” Only 2% of respondents hedged their “no” answer by saying that not everyone needs to learn code but that it would probably be a great idea if they did. ShouldEveryone CodingAbility Where do you stand? Should everyone learn to code? Tweet your response with the hashtag #EveryCode and we’ll add your comments to the mix.

Got You hooked? Here’s more:


Computers Are The Future, But Does Everyone Need To Code? NPR tackles the consummate question


No, Not Everyone Needs to Learn to Code Code School founder Gregg Pollack champions programming literacy


416D65726963612043616E20436F646520 U.S. Representative Tony Cárdenas (D-San Fernando Valley) introduced an act to classify programming as a “critical foreign language”

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