Bits, bytes and everything octal; binary and hexadecimal… all those computer-related number systems – all that math is scary enough to contemplate in the abstract.
What if you needed to know all about them to pursue the career you want? And your math skills are, to be generous, just about good enough to add up the contents of your shopping trolley, provided it’s not too full?
Take a deep breath and relax. A career in coding is not out of your reach even if calculating 10% of anything sends you scrambling for your phone’s calculator.
Side note: isn’t it interesting that, as early as the 14th Century, a calculator was a person who did calculations while a computer was the device such people did their calculations on?
So, whether you consider yourself a calculator or you use a calculator, know that you’re pre-qualified for a career in coding. Let’s find out why, and where advanced math skills would be beneficial.
There’s Not That Much Math Involved
In the early days of electronic computing, programmers had to know a lot about math because anything they wanted to do on the computer required mathematical input.
In those days, machine code ruled. Each machine had its own code that dictated specific instructions and, more often than not, they were written in binary. That coding system was soon replaced with another low-level programming language system referred to as asm.
That stands for ‘assembly language’, so named because they were translated into machine code by an ‘assembler’ – a program that translates syntax into object code the computer can understand.
Those asms became the bridge between the heavily math-dependent machine coding and programming languages that allow the programmer to write code in text rather than numerically.
It didn’t take long for high-level programming languages to emerge. These languages are completely different from machine language – the numerical instructions that machines read, understand and execute.
These compiled languages made coding much easier. Programmers no longer had to remember the machines’ hardware specifications to write code for each type of computer. The new, syntax-rich languages allowed them to write programs in human terms: words rather than numbers.
These early developments in computer programming paved the way for coding to be accessible to all.
What Coding Entails
Traditionally, programmers would learn computer languages and then choose their career field. Today’s coders decide what field they want to work in and then choose the programming language best suited to their aims.
If your lifelong dream has been to build and program robots, you should study C++. On the other hand, if you’re excited about the possibilities inherent in artificial intelligence and machine learning, Python should be your first choice of languages to learn.
Most of the programming languages used today are backed up by vast libraries containing millions of lines of code, already written and free to use.
Python is a great example of such a resource. Its libraries contain nearly 300,000 modules of code for any program you might write, from one to run a graphical user interface to creating a 2-D computer game.
Keep in mind that, while it’s great to have such libraries at your disposal, you will still have to learn programming languages. It’s not as easy as browsing a library until you find the code you need; you have to have a program to drop it into.
So, you’ll still have to study but your lessons won’t be nearly as math-oriented as you feared they would be.
Why You Still Need to Know Some Math
Even if you know nothing about coding or computers, you’ve surely heard of algorithms; a set of finite, sequenced instructions that computers use to solve problems or perform calculations.
Thanks to the aforementioned libraries, you may find already-written algorithms (and equations) to execute any instruction or computation your program needs.
The trick is understanding what the algorithm, equation or formula you select does.
Let’s say, for instance, you want to write code for a video game. Typically, you would have to know calculus because it is used for simulating motion, among other things. However, thanks to a growing toolbox with built-in algorithms compiled specifically for game coders, you don’t need a thorough knowledge of calculus to write decent game code.
You should strive to understand how calculus drives those algorithms, though.
Having a basic idea of calculus, linear algebra and other higher maths is a good idea but you won’t need to study them in-depth unless you go much deeper into the field of programming.
Most likely, the level of math you already know – decimals, units and scientific notation is enough to get you started in coding. Other pre-algebra concepts like functions and exponents are also helpful.
So don’t let any worry over your math skills stand in the way of your coding career. Learn programming basics, choose the right language for the field you want to explore and start coding.