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Advice for my unborn daughter

Garrett Heath on how coding is becoming the new literacy

My wife is not expecting (sorry mom and dad), but there are two pieces of advice I have for my future daughter.

  1. Eat your vegetables
  2. Learn how to program against APIs

After attending SXSW Interactive this past week, I was blown away that the buzz is not around mobile apps, but rather around using APIs. Ten years ago saw the creation of the social networking platforms. The past five years has been about accumulating the data. The next five years and beyond will be about interpreting that data. Venture capitalist Yuri Milner doesn’t disagree, saying in his SXSW session, “It will be a shift from accumulating this data to analyzing this data.”

How is this going to happen? APIs

The path from 1s and 0s in databases to human understanding is connected by APIs. Knowing how to program against them (hell, knowing how to program, period) will be the key skill of the workforce in the coming decades. I came across a brochure at SXSW that hit it right one the nose: “The API is now the single most powerful strategic weapon in business.” With programming becoming the new literacy, my daughter will have to learn to code.

The interesting thing about her generation will be that coding won’t be confined to the technologists or people passionate about computers. It will be something that everyone will benefit from. Whether she is an artist, sports reporter, car mechanic or teacher, there will be an immense amount of data to help her gain greater insight and consequently excel in her chosen field. The common denominator is whether she can tap into that information and interpret it; knowing how to pull this programmatically out of an API will separate the wheat from the chaff.

APIs are not simply being used to understand and interpret data, but are also being used to control the cloud hosting infrastructure that power today’s most popular web applications. In his 2012 Structure talk entitled “The Next 5 Years”, Rackspace President Lew Moorman put it this way, “Modern applications control the infrastructure. They interact with the infrastructure. They rely on its behaviors and specific features.”

Compute power that once was constructed to physically making modifications to the RAM or hard drive can now be controlled by software. Developers can code their application so that it can programmatically interact with the cloud-hosting infrastructure via the API. “This is why small teams have been able to build incredibly robust applications that scale,” Moorman says.

The major advantage for my daughter is that she won’t have to learn how to program or call on APIs in a theoretical or pedantic fashion. She will have access to hardware like Rasperry Pi, Makerbot, iPhones and Androids as well as a boatload of interesting data sitting in accessible databases that is waiting to be exposed and interpreted with her creativity. As Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian said in his SXSW session, Tales of US Entrepreneurship Beyond Silicon Valley, “I see my goddaughter using an iPad and it is a combination of awe and jealousy. [She’ll] be able to code by the time she is three.”

There will soon be a day where nonprogrammers (unfortunately like her dad) will be out of touch with technology in a way that a person who doesn’t use the Internet is out of step today; Luddites who will have to simply consume what people deliver to them instead of creating and interpreting on their own volition.

My daughter can do anything with her life that she wants to do. However, like many children practice piano or take dance lessons, my daughter will learn how to code. That is, after she finishes all her vegetables.

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