Coding is the superpower of the 21st century, as it allows people to go from being consumers of technology to being an active part of its construction.
This is what Elena Planas believes, director of the Computer Engineering degree and professor of Computer Science, Multimedia and Telecommunications Studies at the Open University of Catalonia (UOC).
But is it available to everyone? What does it take to learn it? Can anyone become a programmer, even on a small scale?
According to experts, in principle, there are no essential requirements. As Joan Arnedo, professor of Computer Science, Multimedia and Telecommunications Studies and director of the UOC’s Master’s Degree in Video Game Design and Programming, explains, it is not a complex skill within reach of just a few.
It’s like going for a run, writing or drawing; It’s a matter of putting on, little by little, and willingly. The proof is in the emphasis that this discipline is being given in schools in recent years, from primary school.
Everything will depend on the complexity of the programs you want to develop, where the talent of each one and the level of practice already play a factor: programming a small robot is not the same as programming a large-scale industrial system.
But in both cases, it is necessary to start with the first step, which is training in computational thinking, which the UOC professor defines as “learning to structure any problem that we want to solve in small steps, as well as some fundamental aspects of mathematics and logical, but relatively simple.
The games themselves may be the answer to help us learn to code. Although with very different mechanics and objectives, as Elena Planas explains, programming games have in common that they allow developing, among others, abilities such as problem-solving, logical, structured and critical thinking, creativity, imagination and the ability to concentrate.
Many of the fundamental concepts of programming are hidden behind these games—instructions, algorithms, variables, loops, recursion, patterns, abstraction and generalization, reusability, debugging, long, but all these concepts are learned naturally throughout the game, without the need even to know their technical vocabulary, summarizes Planas.
One of the critical points of this type of game is that the objective is not to play to learn to program but to learn to program by playing. For that reason, there is no recommended number of hours per week, neither maximum nor minimum, to learn.
And the age is not limited either. “Although there are games with a more childish aspect, all people, regardless of gender and age, can play these types of games.
There are no requirements to start; you need curiosity and motivation”, says the director of the UOC’s Computer Engineering degree.
Games and Apps
The market is full of options for learning to practice computational thinking, which is discussed in a recent podcast by Despacho 42, the UOC’s Informatics, Multimedia and Telecommunications Studies space on how people relate to technology.
From the most replicated case in video games, which is to give orders to a robot to reach a specific destination avoiding obstacles, like Algo bot, to perfect board games to play with the family, like Quirky circuits or Robot turtles, through logic games, such as Turing tumble, indicates Joan Arnedo.
As for those who want to raise the level a little more, the UOC professor recommends the games from the company Tomorrow Corporation: Human resource machine and 7 billion humans.
Another popular option is developer Zachtronics, which has an educational licensing program. Its most outstanding exponent is found in the video game Shenzhen I/O, in which you must create an “efficient microcode in assembler to control circuit boards with limited memory (and by consulting a printed manual).
And yes, in this “real” code is minced, although the language is invented, warns the director of the UOC’s Master’s Degree in Video Game Design and Programming.
And the thing is, according to the UOC professor, these games are beneficial “as long as you keep in mind that someone who plays them will develop their computational thinking skills, but they won’t know how to write code on a computer right away.
The exceptions are the games that are really “programming” since they are based precisely on the player solving problems by writing literal code without graphic metaphors and syntax.
A sign that the latter is also arousing more and more interest is that there are currently almost three hundred games classified as “programming”, according to updated data from the Programming is Fun! A Survey of the STEAM Digital Distribution Platform, which in Arnedo’s opinion indicates that “it is a genre that, although it is a niche (it will not be like open-world RPGs), has found its audience and has gained traction.”
In any case, games and mobile applications are not the only way to learn to program from home.
As Elena Planas reminds us, you can also start learning by reading tutorials, watching video tutorials, attending a programming club in your city such as Code Club or combining several options.
In addition, you can find multiple resources on the internet, such as code.org, a platform exclusively dedicated to learning to code for children and adults.