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Why everyone should learn to code

Rosie Dickins explains how she rediscovered her childhood love of coding to become Usborne's chief coding books writer – and why it is such an important skill for children.

Rosie's daughter Bella testing her coding skills
Rosie's daughter Bella testing her coding skills

I am old enough for my first experience of computers to have been a beige 1980s machine hooked up to a TV set. Clunky as it was, it opened up a new world of numbers and logic and quirky computer graphics. I learned a little bit of programming in BASIC and doggedly copied out code from magazines to make pixellated ‘aliens’ zoom around the screen.

Then the powers that be decreed computing lessons should be replaced by ‘information technology’, which meant learning to use word processors and spreadsheets, instead of writing code. Computers suddenly seemed a lot less interesting, and I went on to study other subjects.

But I had a nagging feeling that I was missing something. Computers today are so powerful, and such a huge part of everyday life, and I didn’t know how they worked… How can a machine think and make decisions? What is your laptop or tablet actually doing when you browse the internet, play a computer game or make a video call?

Rosie Dickins, author of Usborne coding books
Rosie Dickins, author of Usborne coding books

Then I was asked to write a book about computers and coding for children. Finally, I thought, a chance to figure it out. Luckily for me, I had married a computer programmer who runs a code club for local school kids, and our daughter is growing up a coding enthusiast, so I had a couple of experts to call on. I got a crash course in everything from binary digits and how computer chips work to coding my own programs (and debugging them).  

The result was Usborne’s Lift-the-flap Computers and Coding, swiftly followed by Look Inside How Computers Work, Coding for Beginners using Scratch, Coding for Beginners using Python, My First Computer Coding Book and – due out next year – Build Your Own Website for Beginners

So that’s how I got into coding. But why should anyone else?

The obvious practical reason is jobs; there is an ongoing shortage of qualified coders worldwide. But even if you don’t think you want to code for a living, learning to code brings important transferable skills in problem-solving and critical thinking. And in a world full of computers, understanding how they work is a key life skill.

But if you ask my 8-year-old daughter why anyone should learn to code, her answer is much simpler: because it’s fun and because you can make ANYTHING!

Postscript

In the 1980s Usborne was the first to publish affordable, full-colour books on computers and coding – or programming as it was called then. Although the code no longer works on modern computers, many coding clubs find them useful and these computer books are still available to download for free from this website.

Tags: coding stem


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