This blog post will be about learning to code, but first, a quick introduction: my name is Alex Leavitt, and I'm a first-year PhD student at the Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism at the University of Southern California (and one of the new HASTAC Scholars). My first PhD semester kept me busy enough to not participate enough on the HASTAC blog, so I'm hoping to rectify that this coming semester. Follow me on Twitter @alexleavitt or read more about what I'm up to at my website, http://alexleavitt.com.
Melody Dworak recently blogged 10 New Year’s Resolutions for Budding Digital Humanists, a solid, simple list of to-do's for the new year. Her #6 and #8 (categorized under moderate effort and time-consuming, respectively) highlight one of the pivotal circumstances of all digital humanists: learning technology. Namely, she emphasizes the desire to learn to code -- from figuring out the basics of the programming mindset to engaging with the difficult details of natural language processing or human-computer interaction.
However, I'm here to emphasize this even more: learn to code.
As a social scientist studying the Internet and online media, I've struggled to move from a background in comparative literature and media to learning about the social effects of digital technology through the technology itself. I know that it's one of the most critical research methods as we move forward with new digital techniques for inquiry. But it's also one of the largest barriers for scholars without academic backgrounds in computer science. Realizing I needed a stronger foundation in technology to engage with research questions about technology, over the summer I played around with trying to teach myself Python. This past semester, I took a course on Mobile Technology and Hacking -- the premise being students were coming from a spectrum of technical skill levels, though it became apparent that technical skills were necessary to engage fully with the material. I also attempted to take a course on Databases coordinated for free online by Stanford's computer science department (though I definitely need to dedicate more time to that effort). Regardless, taking the time to learn technical skills like various programming languages takes a lot of time and effort... but it should still be requisite for all budding digital humanities (and social science) scholars looking at online and digital technology.
Luckily, a new initiative could help us all out with this (probably daunting) task. CodeAcademy, a free online tool that provides sets of programming lessons in an easy-to-use, browser-based interface, recently began CodeYear, an initiative to help people learn to code strongly and confidently in the course of one year. As of this writing, almost 300,000 people have signed up for the weekly assignments that are sent to your email address.