Why I Think English Majors Should Learn to Code
When I was an English major, I was convinced that all English majors should learn to code.
I found myself fascinated by questions like this one:
How do computer scripts reflect Western values and epistemology, even though they are not human?
I wondered whether there could be such a thing as a magical realist coder after reading Alejo Carpentier’s Kingdom of this World. Having studied postcolonial theory in college, I wondered if there was a difference between a coder in the metropole and in the periphery.
I was engrossed in a deeply philosophical and humanistic study of technology. In other words, my study of literature taught me how to ask crucial questions beyond literature –– of something as omnipresent as technology.
Now that I’m a developer, I have begun to look at this problem from a new perspective, but my conclusion still holds. English majors really should consider coding as an option. I still firmly believe that technology is worthy of philosophical scrutiny.
I have no doubt that encouraging English majors to pursue coding will simultaneously benefit tech and the humanities.
Benefits to Technology
I really do think that English majors have quite a bit to offer tech. Yes, I’m biased. But I don’t think I’m wrong. Here are my thoughts on how English majors can improve tech.
While this reason deserves its own book, I’ll touch on it briefly. It is well known that people of color tend to be unrepresented in technology. My hope is that expanding the number of people invited to pursue coding will help to close this gap. Doing so will diminish the implicit bias present in the code developers write.
It is crucial that people of color are offered a seat at the table not only to shrink this country’s wealth inequity but because technology will benefit from the perspectives of people of color.
Additionally, many women –– of all races –– choose the humanities over STEM fields. Encouraging women to start coding helps to bridge this gap. Although I expressed an interest in science at a young age and have been told many times that logic is one of my greatest strengths, no one ever suggested that I learn to code until I was already 20 years old.
The Oculus Rift is one of my favorite arguments for encouraging more women to join tech. It turns out that virtual reality causes nausea in women. Hormonal difference in our brains cause biological men to focus on “motion parallax,” and biological women to rely on “shape-from-shading.” Because virtual reality leans more heavily on motion parallax, women cannot use Oculus Rift without vomiting. Of course, had women been involved in building it, they would have immediately noticed this problem. Why ostracize more than half of the world’s population? That doesn’t seem like a great business plan.
Hunting Down Bugs
English majors catch bugs like nobody’s business. We are trained to snag spelling errors, focus on tiny details, and remember complicated grammatical rules. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve seen a fellow developer spend hours trying to catch a bug they caused by misspelling a variable name.
Writing the Perfect Essay
It’s true that English majors do not study algorithmic thinking. I certainly cannot solve algorithms as quickly as some of my fellow developers. It was harder for me to get into the right mindset because I wasn’t used to it. Even so, English majors know how to architect logical and beautiful designs. Concepts like object-oriented design just make sense. So does syntax. We know how to construct an argument, we know how to follow through. And you’ll struggle to find an English major who doesn’t want to refactor.
Speaking of writing, English majors can write clear, concise documentation that others can work from. As a developer and a technical writer, I see the need tech has for good writing.
English majors have dedicated themselves to studying humanity, so they can probably interact with your company’s Sales team. Don’t underestimate the importance of this skill.
Benefits to the Humanities
Just like technology can benefit from having English majors involved, the humanities will flourish when its participants learn to code.
My personal favorite reason to study code is to contribute to digital humanities research. For those who don’t know, the digital humanities is a sect of the humanities that uses technology to study texts, history, etc. I firmly believe that DH is the future of the humanities, and it should be studied starting now.
Building code and using technology are human endeavors, just like writing and reading. What makes one worthy of humanistic study over the other? And if one really wants to study the use of technology, building some code might help.
Logic Never Hurt
In my opinion, one of the downfalls of the English major is the lack of emphasis on algorithmic and logical thinking. At my alma mater, Skidmore College, I had the option to focus on theory but it wasn’t mandatory. I think that students will benefit from the rigor required to study coding, and it will improve their thought processes in class discussions and essays. I have yet to hear of a liberal arts college uninterested in creating well-rounded graduates.
Getting a Job
I hate to put this on here, but it feels relevant, so I’ll do it against my better judgment. Publishing companies are starting to become more technologically savvy. Some jobs even prefer candidates to at least know basic HTML. All I’m saying is that knowing to code can’t hurt you.
I plan to build a site that will offer resources, blog posts, and podcasts specifically targeted towards English majors, to encourage their exploration of tech as an option.
I also hope to offer a Google Hangout for English majors to answer questions about how to get into coding, and why they should.
I would love feedback and welcome a discussion in the comments. I want to know what you think about this idea, and whether you would be interested. Please share this article with the English majors in your lives!
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