Unraveling the mystery of code

Andrew Smith talks about why he learned to code, and the unexpected pleasures he encountered along the way.

By Jenn Webb
November 21, 2019

In this interview from O’Reilly Foo Camp 2019, Adventures in Coderland author Andrew Smith discusses the journey he’s taken while learning to code. Having started from a place of not knowing anything about coding, Smith says he went much deeper into it than he thought he would.

Highlights from the interview include:

Learn faster. Dig deeper. See farther.

Join the O'Reilly online learning platform. Get a free trial today and find answers on the fly, or master something new and useful.

Learn more

Smith decided to write a book about what he’s learned, a sort of “I’m learning to code so you don’t have to” kind of tome. “I understood nothing about [coding] at all, about how it works, or what a line of code means,” he explained. “How does this thing that looks like algebra make something happen over there? To most of us, that’s a complete mystery. Given that we’re beginning to have a lot of conversations about what we think code should do, and, more crucially, what it shouldn’t do, I felt I needed to be informed about it to participate in those conversations. I thought, ‘Well, actually, so does everyone.’ People aren’t going to all learn to code, but I could do it on their behalf, so they don’t have to.” (00:15)

In learning to code, Smith discovered he worked best with Python because he found it very approachable and clear. The biggest challenge, he noted, wasn’t so much the language itself, but having to learn a new way of thinking. “What you’re trying to do is think the way a computer thinks. That’s the really big hurdle, and that’s the difficult thing. … I’m anthropomorphizing, but trying to get into the mindset of a computer, something that we would do in our analog way very quickly by saying a sentence might take three, four, five, or six steps to communicate to the computer.” (06:25)

Smith has also discovered a cross-over between code and his interest in music. “Recently when I was in the UK, I got involved with live coding—the program I use is called Sonic Pi, which basically turns your laptop into a musical instrument. … In the UK, ‘algorave’ has become a small underground movement in nightclubs. The performer live codes the music and there’s a screen behind them that shows the code.” (18:04)

Post topics: Innovation & Disruption, Software Engineering
Post tags: Deep Dive, Foo Camp '19

Get the O’Reilly Radar Trends to Watch newsletter