Why You Should Try Coding Even If You're Bad At Math

Growing up, I used to privately marvel at how bad at math I was. No matter where we were in the year, I was always a step or two behind everyone else—and as the years went on and on, it started to feel like too much effort to catch up. I was too focused on other things; my Humanities classes always took up a lot of my time, and the need to understand the sine, cosine, and tangent always felt less urgent than the need to understand how the mentality of generations growing up during the Cold War affected politics today. So, for the most part, I put anything related to math to the side.

But I was always curious about computers. True, I doubted I’d understand what was going on with them—but coding was the one thing I hadn’t tried, after all. And, whispered a little voice inside of me, what if it’s the one kind of math you’re good at? What if you would have been good at it all along? What if you never try, but you could have been brilliant?

Fair enough, I thought. So when I had the chance to sign up for a class based on learning to code, specifically for individuals who were intimidated by math and science, I jumped at the chance. Probably a bust, I thought, but at the very least I’ve always been able to scrape by in math classes before, so my GPA shouldn’t take too much of a hit.

The first two classes were about what I’d expected—confusing, and feeling at least a few steps behind everyone else. I sighed a bit, internally—I was used to it, but I’d been expecting something else. Something I could be good at.

And then we began coding in earnest—first in HTML (or Hypertext Markup Language, containing all the essential content of the website), and then in CSS (Cascading Style Sheet, essentially for making all the HTML content look good). And I learned what has been, so far, the absolute strangest thing about myself:

I like coding. And what’s more, I’m good at it.

But, although it feels incredibly strange, it does make some amount of sense—because coding, despite my fears, has very little to do with math or science. Most of the math has already been done and processed by computers and computer engineers; programming itself is more about using the codes that the computer has associated with different binary commands to tell the computer what you want it to do. It also involves a lot of Googling—and as a student who has written more papers than I can count for, I’ve had a fair amount of experience in learning how to Google in order to get the sources I’m looking for.

Even so, liking something even generally related to technology and being good at it is still incredibly strange to me. I started working on the homework for that class long before it was due, sitting in a cafe near school and being vaguely aware of my coffee growing cold next to me as I wrote and Googled and uploaded my updated files. There even came a point where I spent one whole Saturday in pajamas, on my couch, searching through different tech Q&As and writing and rewriting code until, finally, I’d managed to create a navigation bar and a dropdown menu.

This might sound somewhat cheesy—and maybe it is—but creating content, and then being able to hone it in the way I wanted, has been the closest thing I’ve felt to magic. When I was younger, I was amazed by Harry Potter and the way witches and wizards were able to transform something to a different color, or shape, or size—now, hunching over my computer, I was able to do the same things with a mouse, a keyboard, and a search engine.

I don’t mean, of course, to deride other professions and skills. Coding isn’t (and probably shouldn’t) be for everyone, in the same way that computer engineering or paleoanthropology or screen studies aren’t for everyone. Not everyone needs to be good at it, and if it’s not something enjoyable, you shouldn’t feel any pressure to do it—the world needs people who are good at everything, not just working with computers. (Additionally, the world needs people who learn trades, or who work outdoors, or who pursue paths other than college—but that’s a whole other article.)

It’s important, in life, that everyone have different skills. Coding doesn’t need to be one of them. But if you’re someone who has always fallen behind in math or science—if you’re someone who has always wanted to learn more about how the hell the Internet works—if you’re someone who’s bored on a Saturday and feeling slightly restless but not being sure what you want to do, exactly—

What if you’re brilliant?


[Cover image from Unsplash; all other images from Giphy]