"Nobody is born knowing how to program."

[Three Female Computer Scientists Walk into an AMA][1] is the latest episode of Reddit’s podcast — [Upvoted][2]. It’s a “roundtable discussion on STEM” with three MIT Computer Scientists:

  • [Elana Glassman][3]
  • [Jean Yang][4]
  • [Neha Narula][5]

During the episode (at 42:45) the discussion turns to learning:

“Nobody is born knowing how to program… and it doesn’t matter what age you are when you decide you want to learn.”

I’m interested to hear your thoughts and experiences on this.

Does it matter how old you are when you begin to learn to code?
How old were you when you started to learn?
[1]: http://www.reddit.com/r/Upvoted/comments/2vokx2/episode_5_three_female_computer_scientists_walk/
[2]: http://www.reddit.com/r/Upvoted/
[3]: https://twitter.com/roboticwrestler
[4]: https://twitter.com/jeanqasaur
[5]: https://twitter.com/neha


It does (depending on your goals).
You can learn very much more quickly when you are younger (the obvious example being children learning a language from scratch). Yet, the older you get, the more challenging the learning process becomes. There are varying theories as to why. I quite like this one.

But this is not to say that age should be a barrier to entering the IT world. Quite the converse.



Coding is something I have dipped in and out of for too long. My first experience was in the forces 35 years ago with assember and something they used on an (even then) archaic mainframe. My next experience came nearly 20 years later when I did some stuff with MS Access VBA (97 I think), then somehow ended up in a developer role putting together our first intranet (had to learn really fast there) - but that was only an excuse to get me in a position doing the role they really wanted me for - project management. Since then I’ve dabbled for my own personal interest sake, whether that be HTML, CSS JS, PHP, MySQL, or whatever needed to keep my blog running, or doing a bit of vBulletin sysadmin for a forum I’m involved in. I’m not a developer/coder by any stretch, but I do rather like to tinker.

Even at my age (53), I still seem to have the ability to absorb stuff, but I’d agree, the earlier you start the easier it probably is. I think it more depends on whether you’re genuinely committed to learning though.

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[quote=“James_Hibbard, post:2, topic:113147”]
I quite like this one.
[/quote]Sounds good! :wink:

[quote=“James_Hibbard, post:2, topic:113147”]
You can learn very much more quickly when you are younger
[/quote]I think you’re right; it’s quicker as a young’n but never too late!

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Learning to program I was probably close to 18/19ish. I was playing around with HTML and stuff, getting the feel for how computers think, when I was 14/15.

I get what they are saying, but I think it’s somewhat wrong. Not everyone can program and not everyone who can program will be able to program well. It takes a certain mentality to do it. Your brain has to be able to think in certain ways and to break down problems in certain ways and it has nothing to do with intelligence (though you do need some).

Some people just can’t do it. Personally, I could never be a Doctor or a Nurse or Vet or anything like that. My brain just does not work that way and no amount of training could get it to. Sure, I could probably work hard and get by enough to graduate… But I would never be good at it. I’m OK with this.

Some people can’t draw and never will be able to. Some people can’t cook and will never be able to. Some people can’t program and will never be able to.

I haven’t listened to this podcast yet, but it bothers me when I see things like “I just need someone smart and motivated. I can teach anyone to program.” The hell you can. It comes easy to some people, others it doesn’t come at all. I think people forget that or want to deny it sometimes. But people are different and that’s OK.


I was 8 when I started, almost 30years ago :slight_smile: I’m still learning, so I don’t think there is an age limitation :smiley: The usual problem is some people after a book or an online training think: “That’s it, I’m professional now”. I’m addict, no question, I can see a code as beauty as a flower and smelly as old socks.

If you count html and CSS as coding then I didn’t start until my late forties (I’m 62 now) and never really had a problem with learning them. Indeed, I’m sure I would have had less inclination when I was younger as there were always better ways to spend my time.:slight_smile:

I think that younger people who are interested in the subject can learn quicker but I also think its the fact that they have more spare time at that age also to invest in learning something new. Once you start working for a living you don’t have the luxury of staying up all night developing your coding skills (not to mention the energy).

It’s probably true though that a younger brain is sharper but it didn’t do me much good at school. It wasn’t until about 20 years after I left school that I realized I wasn’t as stupid as I thought.:slight_smile:

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Ain’t that the sad truth :slight_smile:

I was 12, I used to mess around with scripts in games I was playing and got into programming through modding them, that was in about 1998.

I actually teach people to program, who all happen to be roughly the same age and I will say this: Some people pick it up a lot faster than others so age isn’t important but there are differences between people and some find it easier.

Very interesting topic.

I got into coding in my late thirties. At the very beginning it wasn’t all that intuitive to me, then I realized 2 key points.

The first one was my love for languages. I picked up English and French quite easily and although programming languages don’t follow the same pattern as natural languages, some concepts are similar, like syntax and even meaning: accomplishing something by coding could be a bit similar to making oneself understood in another language.

The second key factor was my background in Philosophy research: the subject gave me the training in logic and analytical problem solving, while having done academic research meant that being always curious and keeping up with learning new stuff was sort of second nature to me.

So I guess, although as a rule being young helps, being older with the right baggage can have its advantages too.

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I started writing code when I was 7 years old; I wrote choose your own adventure games for the c64 in Commodore Basic.

I started with that too. Was around 12 years old I believe.

I don’t think that’s what speaker meant. She only said 1 sentence and it could mean slightly different if she could explain further. It’s kind of like say like this

'Nobody is born with six pack abs… and it doesn’t matter what age you are when you decide to get six pack abs."

Is this statement true? Yes! But is it also true that earlier you start the better? Also yes… I think you’re taking the statement word by word.

I disagree, unless the person has some form of disability I truly believe anyone can learn anything to a great level if they give the time and dedication to the task. Yes we all think differently but everyone has a way to work things out, given they have the time.


I’ve met plenty of very smart and motivated individuals who were terrible programmers.

You can teach anyone to draw certain things well, but you can’t teach anyone to be an artist.

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Hey, I don’t do simple stick-figures any more.
Whats-a-matter-you, don’t like my rendition of Van Gogh’s Self-Portrait? :wink:

more on-topic, my first exposure to programming was “digital logic” more than any specific language (and I was 30 something then)
You know, the and, or, nor, xor stuff

Then I got into Basic and got entrenched in procedural-think that took years to get un-bogged from.

As far as age? I go back to the monochrome cathode monitor, 128K is amazing days.


I’m not so sure I understand where you’re heading with this, you can absolutely teach anyone to be an artist, it might take more time for one person than another but it certainly is plausible.

Are you trying to say that some people don’t have the mental capacity to do one thing over another?

Yes, that’s exactly what I said in the first comment. :slight_smile:

Such as I could never be a doctor or vet or even a nurse. Could I do it? Sure. I’m a smart guy. Would people die? Yeah, probably.

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I agree 100+%

Though it’s likely most anyone could be taught well enough to be OK, that doesn’t mean they’ll ever be great.
(take my previous “art” for example)
Life just isn’t long enough.


I still think it’s entirely possible given the time and dedication. Anyone can be great at anything. It depends how much effort, dedication and drive you have towards the task.

The reason why people don’t get good enough at something is likely time constraints or disbelief in their own ability to be good at the task, self doubt. It all depends on your mindset and attitude towards the task.

Everyone is perfectly capable.