The first surprise of learning to program? I actually enjoyed it. Yes, programming is challenging, frustrating and often tedious. But it offers satisfactions that are not unlike those of writing. The elegant loops of logic, the attention to detail, the mission of getting the maximum amount of impact from the fewest possible lines, the feeling of making something engaging from a few wispy, abstract ideas — these challenges were familiar to me as a critic. By my third month, I had internalized a new logic, a different way of looking at information. By the time summer came around, I was learning about good web design by constructing web applications, taking them from simple prototypes to something sophisticated enough to test with users. And by the end of the course, I knew the basic structure of computer operating systems.
Now, I was never going to be a career programmer. Though I got into it with the idea of getting myself out of a financial pinch, it turned out to be unnecessary. I managed to transition from a book critic to a features writer.
But my code year changed me. Whenever I meet someone involved in technology — which is pretty much everyone these days — I have a real understanding of what they’re talking about, whether it’s an I.T. consultant working with a bank trying to exploit the possibilities of Big Data or a biomedical engineer who has created software to more precisely visualize an M.R.I. scan. Knowing some code has made me feel more connected to others in our tech-driven society.