Back in high school, I learned how to program in C++, a fairly complex, high-level computer language. I loved making bizarre, acid-trip-like screen savers where random boxes of color would appear and grow on the screen, creating a technicolor cacophony of shapes. I also once coded a math tutoring application for my siblings that spat out random addition, subtraction, division and multiplication problems. But my crowning achievement was my final project, a collaborative work that resulted in a Simpsons casino game. We were nerds, and we were happy.
A year later, I decided to leave my computer science lifestyle and strike forth to pursue another passion: journalism. I went to one of the top schools in the country for my craft. I learned how to write concisely, report accurately and edit diligently. I was one of the first students to take a digital journalism course, which entailed creating a very sorry website (think Geocities but a little more “special”).
With my foray into digital journalism being kind of a bust, I figured that there would be journalists and there would be technologists and never the twain shall meet. I was wrong.
Shortly after moving to Chicago, a friend of mine developed a site called ChicagoCrime.org. It pulled municipal data and graphically displayed it on a Google map. Simple and ingenious. Journalism and technology. It was also fun to see if anyone got robbed on your block.
A few years later, ChicagoCrime.org transformed into EveryBlock. EveryBlock is one entity that has breathed new life into the financially dying art of journalism. The concept is simple. Neighborhood residents report on the going-ons of the neighborhood. Additionally, information is pulled from various sites (crime stats, Yelp reviews, etc.) and displayed according to zip code. Each zip code has its own little feed, making this extremely hyperlocal journalism.
Now consider the fact that Chicago is bursting with start-ups. Groupon is by far the most notorious, but there are many others. And these companies are looked at as rock stars. Not just by snorting tech geeks but by the community at large. And now we realize, as The Faint has pointed out in song, that the geeks were right. Computer programming is cool.
So I’ve been thinking about my computer science days again recently. All those hours spent learning how to think in Boolean logic. All those “for” loops and “do/while” loops. And I’m getting wistful. I had a fun time coding. I just thought it was too nerdy of a habit, something to be ashamed of rather than celebrated. But I’m realizing I was dead wrong. Developers are in constant demand, and learning how to code, even just a little, can really help get your tech start-up idea off the ground. And I’ve always liked the freedom of not having to rely on others to make my initial vision come true.
So I’ve ordered a book on Python. I’m debating between teaching myself that or Ruby. All you nerds can chime in on what is better (and you will chime in). For now, it’s going to be a hobby, something I do in my free time, something to tinker with in the garage. I have a project in mind I’d like to develop, something that combines several of my passions. Hopefully with enough diligence and patience, I can make it a reality.
So, yeah, being a nerd is cool. Coding is an art form. And all the hipsters who traded in their guitars for turntables are now trading in their turntables for Ruby.