Coding is useful. It’s the language of the new age, the language that allows us not only to communicate with computers, but to make them do our bidding.
Okay, so maybe I’m the only person who gets that much of a kick out of it. But the point stands. Coding is the future, and learning to code can help you advance in your career, beef up your resume, and give you some serious life skills. Which is why teaching kids to code is so important, especially young girls who might otherwise be discouraged from fields like computer science and engineering.
But coding isn’t just a hard skill. Programming, and a programmer’s approach to thinking, can actually teach us a ton of so-called soft skills (which are way more important than everyone pretends they are, but I don’t have to tell a talent professional that).
So what HR leadership skills can coding teach you?
Programming is one of the most procedural things I know. In most programming languages, you must follow an order at all times. If you write your code out of order, it’s likely not to work, and even if it does work it will be messy and difficult to fix or update down the line.
Everyone’s seen a disorganized manager. The person who can’t keep their planner up to date, who forgets the names of the people on their team, and who can’t lead a meeting is going to lose control of their team and their projects very quickly. If you’ve been this person (I know I have!) you know how miserable it is to play a constant game of catch-up.
If we approach HR organization like we approach programming, it takes organization from a nice-to-have to a must-have element. If organization is absent, nothing will work correctly, and problems will be needlessly difficult to change. If you have to think of disorganization as a system-breaking mistake, do so. If you can think like a coder and organize, organize, organize, you’ll be much better off as a manager.
It’s really easy to write terrible code. Even professionals do it. You don’t need to have ever written a line of code in your life to understand the reasons why. People get lazy, people like their way of doing things (even if it’s not how anyone else does things), and people develop bad habits that they just can’t break.
Bad code will absolutely impact other coders. If a developer writes hard to read, unintelligible code, every coder who uses their work as a source is going to have a hard time, if they’re adding, changing, or fixing anything in the program—just like someone who writes a lazy report or instructional book full of bad grammar and murky syntax is going to confuse everybody who reads their work.
Practice has never made perfect. But practice does make permanent. Coding reminds of of this and teaches us to be careful and intentional in the things we do every day to ensure that we don’t fall into terrible, lazy habits. You need to always do your best work to avoid having a negative impact on those who work with you or base their work on what you do.
Writing code may be one of the most frustrating activities on the planet. Sometimes it’s right up there with trying to find the dead bulb on a string of holiday lights, or rolling a giant boulder up a hill just to watch it fall back down when you’re almost to the top.
The frustration comes from the debugging process. Sometimes you’ll get a notification informing you that your code has an error… and that’s it. No details, no specific information on where it’s all gone wrong. All you know is that you have an issue, and nothing is going to work correctly until you solve it.
This may be a familiar situation to you if you’ve ever tried managing a large group of people. Sometimes there’s a problem that nobody can quite articulate, and until you get to the root of the problem and fix it, no work is going to get done. Programming is an exercise in the patience and focus needed to find problems and solve them.
In programming as in life, knowing your material back and forth is a huge help. Knowing how your code is supposed to look helps you fix it, just as knowing how your team is supposed to gel helps you discover what’s keeping them apart.
# This is how you make a comment in the Ruby programming language
# You can comment this way in Python as well
<!–And this is how to comment in HTML–>
Programming has a reputation.
For example, picture a programmer.
Are you picturing someone locked up alone in a dark room, lit only by the green glow of the computer screen as they frantically type away in total silence?
While that may be an accurate description of me on any given Tuesday evening, it isn’t a fair assumption for all programmers. Programmers communicate with one another far more than you might imagine.
Just about every programming language comes with a built-in way to leave comments in their code. Comments are notes written by and for humans, and are not read with the computer as part of the code. They exist to explain why certain syntax choices were made, to troubleshoot common errors, to thank people for using the code, or perhaps just to say hi and tell some bad computer puns.
In this way, programming teaches us to keep humans in mind in what we do, and to talk to them. It can be so easy to assume that your software handles everything, or that the bureaucratic system of your office explains everything your fellow employees need to know. If you can avoid falling into this trap, however, and rely on consistent and through communication, you will have a happier, more productive team.
You might be getting the message that programming is challenging, frustrating, and monotonous. And, in some ways, you’re absolutely right. But everything can be repetitive and difficult if you let it or, worse, if you don’t have the care and drive it takes to work through the hard parts, you’ll never reach the huge rewards that coding can provide.
The coolest part of coding is that you’re making a computer do your bidding. I don’t just mean sending robots to take over the world. Even something as simple as making your website display on someone else’s computer is pretty exciting. Managing a program, like managing people, gives you a sense of accomplishment.
Even if you aren’t making people do your bidding, there’s still something satisfying about taking a group of people and helping them become comfortable with one another, teaching them what they need to know, and trusting them to create cool things and do good work together. But none of that can be accomplished unless you show dedication. Even when it’s hard.
So do I have to learn to code?
Well, no. No, you don’t. Had you worried for a second there, didn’t I?
While learning to code is extremely useful, much like learning a human language, it’s also time-consuming, difficult, and requires a dedicated effort and desire to learn. Also just like a human language. If you don’t have the time and the drive to devote to learning, all the free lessons and how-to videos in the world aren’t going to teach you.
But these takeaways can be used by anyone, not just a programmer. It’s okay to just steal these lessons without learning how to develop web apps for yourself. Though I do have to advocate finding a computer language that appeals to you and giving it a shot. The worst possible outcome is that you decide it isn’t for you and try something else. So why not?
What’s your takeaway?
If you program, what has it taught you about HR leadership? Maybe you don’t know how to code, and that’s okay. In that case, what have you learned about leadership in seemingly unrelated parts of your life? Tell me about it in the comments.
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