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Less Code, More Power

A few weeks ago Dona Sarkar had written the first tweet with the hashtag #LessCodeMorePower. As more and more of her audience members at the Dev Up Conference were mentioning how they were inspired by Samit Saini and his growth, Dona was validating a point that a global movement was on its way:

The sentiment resonated with me not only in its simplicity, but also its truth: when the tools for problem solving involve less code, more individuals can participate. Traditionally, in a given industry or organization there is a distinction between someone who does a job and someone who solves problems for that job, in this case, with code. So when the prerequisites for learning to code are fewer and all parties have access to and can understand the tools, the overall population of problem solvers expands. ‘Less Code More Power’ is an inclusive message.

In one hashtag, Dona had put into words the reason why I was willing to take a chance on PowerApps when many other mature options existed.

 

The Conundrum

Resources for learning Python, C#, Javascript and all of the programming languages are widely available. Many of them are free with communities eager to help answer questions and tackle challenges. I can search online and find videos tutorials of even the most obscure solutions. There are also videos of those outside of the tech industry who have shared stories of how they had taught themselves how to code and found jobs at Microsoft and Google. It is both inspirational and aspirational to learn how to code when it is not one’s day job.

But as widely available and free as all the resources are to learn how to code, why doesn’t everybody just do it? What’s holding people back? While I cannot speak for others, I share my experience and why #LessCodeMorePower made the difference for me.

For context, coding had not been part of my day job or within my job description. To be exact, I was previously an elementary school teacher. The closest thing to code I interacted with was Excel, and with it, I created spreadsheets to solve teacher problems such as a planbook that generated sub plans in Word; it was a serious time saver. I had always wanted to upgrade those skills but found the commitment daunting as I describe the excuses I would make.

 

Excuses, excuses

Some of these excuses may sound familiar to you as well:

I don’t have time

As a teacher, I had the luxury of having time off for winter and summer break just like students do. Time is relatively more plentiful then. Yet during the school year, I would be occupied planning, teaching, grading, and attempting to have work-life balance. It wasn’t impossible, but highly discouraging to invest time into learning a new skill as complex as coding when I had other priorities.

It’s not my job

There are many effective websites available that I had my students use. Supply was not a problem, but each website only fulfilled one aspect of instruction and learning. Furthermore, the sites did not communicate with one another. I would need to go from one site to another to get the information I wanted. That meant having to memorize more usernames and passwords–for both myself and my students. But I wasn’t a software developer and it wasn’t my job to do something about this problem.

It’s too late

Computer Science had been synonymous with a four-year college degree to me. Considering I had multiple degrees already, I felt too burned out to take any more university classes–and accumulate any more student debt. I was ‘done’ with school.

It’s not for me

I believed I was a lifelong teacher. Whether designing a lesson or helping a student find a friend, I loved every part of it. I could not imagine myself doing anything else. And I certainly did not have a perception of myself as a ‘developer.’

 

No more excuses

After years of making these excuses about why coding was not for me, PowerApps had come along and upended all assumptions I had about learning to code. From my initial experience, I immediately noticed the similarities between PowerApps and Excel.

  • Functions like Sum() and If() work similarly in PowerApps–and with improvements.
  • The expression language also reads the same: starting with evaluating the innermost argument and working outwards.
  • The expression language is more semantic and human readable than other code I had seen.

I knew Excel inside-and-out. So the familiarity of PowerApps to Excel made it a much more attractive platform to create apps than Python or Javascript for which I had no experience. When I’m teaching my students, I take inventory of their prior knowledge. What do they already know that I can connect new learning to? In the same way, when I’m thinking about what I want to learn, I’m looking for what skill sets overlap what I already know? The daunting wall of prerequisites, 4-year degrees, and excuses that I had associated with learning to code began to crumble:

I don’t have time. With so many overlapping functions and patterns with Excel, the time to learn was significantly less. I not only had time to learn PowerApps, but to learn during the school year.

It’s not my job. It still wasn’t in my job description to create apps, but I realized a new moral imperative. Were I to learn how to make apps, I would be at a cross-section in which I had the pedagogy of a teacher with the development skills of a software engineer. I could finally make the apps for my classroom that don’t already exist, but should. I could teach others like me who had no background in coding to take the same path.

It’s too late. All these years where I had hit an upper limit of what I could (and should) do in Excel, I had felt like an old dog that couldn’t learn new tricks. Now this old dog had many new tricks to learn. Knowing that I could add onto what I already knew in Excel was a significant morale booster–and it didn’t require a 4-year degree as I proved to myself in my first weekend with PowerApps.

It’s not for me. This last excuse took me a while to overcome as it concerned self-perception. Every new app or functionality I created gave me the positive reinforcement that I could achieve. And seeing my app updated after clicking save and publish provided me the instant gratification I needed to validate that I was learning. I inched closer and closer to acknowledging that I was no longer just a teacher. I had become a teacher-developer.

 

It’s your turn

So when I saw the hashtag #LessCodeMorePower for the first time, it reminded me of my roots–my origin story. Why was I able to learn what I never expected to learn? Somebody created a tool that removed the barriers to learning and challenged my excuses.

To you, my reader, I ask: what does ‘Less Code More Power’ mean to you? I have shared my thoughts and want to hear yours. Tweet your thoughts with the hashtag #LessCodeMorePower.

And welcome to the movement.