NOTE: There is a newly updated version of this article available here - Is It Worth Learning How To Code Anymore?

Original question from Quora:

Is it worth learning programming anymore?

Every possible idea for an app or a website already exists, so its not like I will ever come up with something as big as Amazon or Facebook.

Also there are people out there who will always be way better than me, so why bother?

My Answer:

Allow me for a moment to challenge your assumptions for a moment…

Every possible idea for an app or website certainly DOES NOT exist. In fact, that VERY SAME idea was had 5, 10, 20, and even 40–50 years ago when computers were in their infancy.

Seriously, go back in time and read old magazines or books and you will find people thinking that what currently existed was all there would ever be. You’ll also find some people who think the future is totally untouched.

Both are wrong and there is a big secret to the whole thing which is as good of a reason to learn programming or any other skill…

However, before spilling the beans let me tell you a story about a woman named Joanne. She was a huge failure. Her husband left her, she had no job, she suffered from depression, and was on welfare.

Life was not going well for Joanne.

And then Joanne did a stupid thing. She decided to write a novel. Now, if you know anything about being an author, you know how bad of an idea this is…

First of all, there are thousands and thousands of books put out every year on literally every topic you can think of. Go to a bookstore and you’ll see shelves and shelves and shelves and shelves of books. Every topic has been covered dozens of times from every different angle.

To make matters worse, Joanne was writing a novel for children and young adults. A novel. Do you know how hard it is to get kids to read a book instead of watching their favorite tv show or playing a video game?

Oh and don’t get me started on just how difficult it is to get published. If you manage to finish writing your book, and editing your book, you have to take it to a publisher (who has all the data about how bad of an idea being a new author is) and convince them to invest thousands of dollars in publishing your book.

Many authors, very successful authors even get rejected by 20 or 30 publishers before a single one shows interest.

Oh, and speaking of managing to finish a book, writing a book itself is one of the most painful and terrible experiences you can have in life. It takes hundreds or thousands of hours of writing just to get the rough draft. Think 2–3 hours a day for a few months of daily writing just to get to the first draft. And then you get to edit the bloody thing four or five times until it’s decent enough to read.

So Joanne, broke, on welfare, with a small child to take care of, wrote her novel. She wrote the manuscript on an old manual typewriter. As you can imagine, writing a whole novel on a typewriter is a very taxing process.

Somehow, she got an agent who sent the manuscript out to twelve publishers. Every one rejected the book.

So, Joanne went on with her life and was advised to get a day job because her writing career wasn’t going anywhere.

A year passed and a publisher decided to publish the book. She was given a very small advance of about two thousand dollars. Still, the odds of her making any money writing children’s books was about zero.

Time went by and an initial run of 1,000 books was printed, half of which went to libraries. It won a few awards and the next year an auction was held for the U.S. publishing rights. Joanne “nearly died” when Scholastic books bought the U.S. publishing rights for $105,000.

The next year in October of 1998 Joanne’s book - Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was published in America. Since then Joanne aka J.K. Rowling went on to be the first billionaire author for the series of books and movies in the Harry Potter franchise.

It’s easy to look back now and say “of course Harry Potter was a brilliant idea!”, but that misses the point. There was no good reason to become an author and JK Rowling was not a huge success out of the gate.

You could say that she got lucky…

And that is really a huge part of the secret to success in programming, writing, sports, or anything else.

There is a nearly infinite opportunity in every field for success. Nobody is guaranteed anything. So, if you are willing to work hard and put the time in, the odds of getting lucky and changing the world keep getting higher and higher over time.

The possibilities in programming are endless for those willing to learn, build, and work hard at programming. Also, the field is hotter now than it ever has been before. There are millions of programmers out there making very good wages working for companies like Google, Apple, and Facebook. There are thousands more building the next big thing and creating apps like Snapchat, Uber, or Castle Crashers.

In fact, every decade or so there seems to be another big opportunity to become the next big thing in areas like desktop applications in the 80’s and 90’s, internet enabled applications in the 90’s and 2000’s, mobile apps in the 2010’s, and probably VR/machine learning/the cloud going forward.

If anything, it’s far easier to make it big programming now than ever before.


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