With the growing interest in the learn to code movement, everyone from high schoolers to those far into their chosen careers has gained an interest in learning how to code and starting a career in software engineering. However, many have their doubts and are asking, “is it too late to learn how to code?”.
Well, I have some bad news. As it turns out, there might actually be a lot of truth in the benefit of learning how to code from a young age and growing into your career from there. But is this advantage a necessity? How much harder is it the learn how to code as a child, a teenager, or for someone in their thirties, forties, fifties, or sixties?
Well, if you want to know the answer, you’re in luck. We are going to look at the best years for our brains to acquire new skills and how aging affects this process.
Is It Too Late To Learn How To Code From A Brain Development Perspective?
The Bad News About The Correlation Between Learning And Aging
The first question most people have in their mind when they want to learn how to code is whether or not they are even mentally capable of learning how to code.
We have all heard the stories of the coding prodigy who built their own operating system when they were 12 just for fun. Of course, those are the geniuses who are going to be good programmers. Right?
Well, you’re right. Comparatively, you will probably never be as good as the 12-year-old coding prodigy that taught themselves at a young age and continued to code well into their adult years.
For a moment, let’s set aside the fact that people who have learned how to code at a young age now have decades of experience over you.
What’s more discouraging is that your brain chemistry changes as you age.
A study published in the US National Library of Medicine on the best time to acquire new skills between 4-85 found that your implicit learning abilities significantly decreased after the age of 12. The study found that children before this age are incredibly efficient at making new connections and retaining that information. Which is important to learn and understand the world around them.
For most, it is not realistic to learn how to program from such a young age, but there is also evidence that this ability to learn gradually declines throughout your adolescence and the falloff goes until you are over the age of 60. In addition to this, your brain reaches full maturity around the age of 25.
Some additional bad news is that as you grow older, your brain becomes more prone to taking the path of least resistance. You spend less time trying to figure out viable solutions and instead opt for the solution that you already know well. A pretty big disadvantage for a programmer whose sole job is to solve creative problems.
With these facts in mind, it is obvious that the younger you are, the better chance you have to learn a new skill well, including programming.
Is All Hope Lost?
Okay, so that’s a lot of bad news for most of us. The good news is that just because you don’t retain new information as easily doesn’t mean learning is impossible or that you cannot improve your learning abilities.
Our brains are highly plastic and it is very possible to improve your learning ability the more you learn. With persistence and hard work, the connection between your neurons becomes stronger. As your neurons strengthen, the messages between neurons are transmitted faster and faster. Making your neurons more efficient and improving your ability to learn.
So what does this mean? Well, it means that as you continuously exercise your ability to learn, the better you will get at it. Not only will the knowledge you gain as a programmer compound, like understanding the differences and similarities between programming languages, but you will also be able to learn new things faster. Hopefully, you can see why this is beneficial to more than just your programming career.
So, Is It Too Late To Learn How To Code According To Science?
Hopefully, you understand the point I am about to make. Is programming impossible to learn at a certain age? Of course not, and many great programmers started their programming careers late in life. Will the journey to becoming a competent and successful developer be longer and harder the older you are? Well, it sure seems like it.
Tack on the fact that many programmers have been coding for decades. You may just lose all hope.
Why You Should Learn How To Code Despite How Old You Are
At this point, I want to take this conversation and reframe it. I certainly don’t want to discourage anyone from following their dreams. There are many reasons to learn how to code despite how old you are. I had a lot of imposter syndrome when teaching myself how to code and speaking from experience on the other side I want to share why learning to code is still a great idea despite your age.
Disclaimer: I was 23 when I taught myself how to code.
So, here’s the good news. If you truly love coding and are willing to put in the many hours it takes to become proficient in your craft, you are going to do very well as a developer.
1. You Will Work Harder Than Your Peers Because You Enjoy It
In fact, I have met many people who have gone to university, obtained a computer science degree, and couldn’t build you working software. Companies want ambitious, hard-working programmers that love what they do and do it well. Mainly because they want you to be productive and prove you will continuously learn on your own time.
If you can prove you can solve DSA challenges and can build working software, you’ll be able to pass the interview and someone is going to give you a shot.
Once you get that job, you will realize you have a ton of colleagues that don’t even want to be there and don’t have the skills or passion you have. That’s a huge competitive advantage in this field. The employees that do the best, like it enough to do it in their spare time.
2. The World Needs More Programmers
Here is another big point to keep in mind. You aren’t actually competing with the smartest people in the industry, you just need to meet the requirements. In 2020, there were 1.4 million unfilled computer science jobs in the US. The job market for programmers has never been better and it’s not likely to slow down anytime soon. I don’t even have a relevant degree as a developer and I still get headhunted at least once a week on LinkedIn for web developer jobs. That’s pretty much unheard of in any other profession in 2022.
3. Brain Health & Better Problem Solving
If for nothing else, do it for the health of your brain! Programming is a great mental challenge that will work your brain like a muscle and change the way you think.
I can’t tell you how many times my programming knowledge has come in handy. The ability to take complex problems and break them down into smaller, more manageable problems is a skill that will help you no matter what industry you work in or what personal problem you are trying to solve.
There is also a good chance you will directly use those skills if you work with a computer as well. Whether you are writing basic scripts to automate tasks or just broadening your understanding of what a computer can do.
So, Is It Too Late To Learn How To Code? Definitely not. Although it may be much harder and more time-consuming the older you get. Anyone can learn how to code and there are plenty of benefits in doing so! In fact, this article should be the push you need to stop putting it off and learn how to code right now. You will never be younger than you are today.
If you are new to programming and are trying to learn how to code, check out my guide for web development.
If you are practicing for a coding interview, check out my list of best programming languages.