I’m going to say something controversial: I do not want to write code. I’m eager to learn the basic concepts of computer science, if only for my own curiosity and to understand the how and why of software, but I don’t have any burning desire to build software myself. However, over the the last couple years I’ve become increasingly insecure with my lack of coding skills, to the point where I sometimes feel unqualified to work in this space without learning.
A lot of that insecurity is personal, but I think another big part of it is the rising trend of elevating the engineer. Let’s call it the Cult of Engineering (CofE) for shorthand. In the Bay Area at least, we can’t turn a corner without people telling us how important engineers are. There is more and more talk about universal coding literacy. And the rise of the brogrammer and shows like Bravo’s Start-Ups: Silicon Valley can only be a function of the Cult of Engineering.
Now, don’t get me wrong: I feel strongly that we need more people getting into the engineering game (especially women and minorities!). And I love my engineering friends and colleagues and think it’s imperative that we expand engineering thinking into more sectors (hence my work at Code for America). But I worry that the CofE is having unintended consequences, like:
1) Subjugating non-engineers/programmers to second-class status, devaluing skills like relationship-building and communication. Whether we’re willing to admit it or not, human networks are still vastly more important than technical ones. And the most important new technologies are simply platforms to make it easier for humans to do what they do: talk to each other. Communicating, building consensus, and organizing are all non-negotiable elements of any world-changing undertaking including technology endeavors. We should be fostering and elevating these skills as much as we foster and elevate engineering.
2) Making it more intimidating for women and minorities to come into the tech space. If the ability to code—or the deep desire to learn—becomes a de facto prerequisite to being a part of the community, are we making the barrier to entry too high? And are we discouraging groups that are already disproportionately susceptible to self-doubt?
When tossing this around with some friends, I got really great feedback. Here’s what resonated with me:
So, to that end, we started to put together a list of resources for people who don’t necessarily want to learn how to code but want to know enough to have some credibility. Here are a few I’m digging into:
Once I feel like I have the landscape down I may start digging into a language. But I’ll never be an engineer. I’ll probably never build any piece of software that anyone else uses. I’m (getting better at being) ok with that.