East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

I can’t see why…


Back when I was working on my Doctorate in Geology, I started dabbling in coding – I learned a bit of R and a bit of Python. I had got my BSc in Paleontology with a work that relied massively on data analysis, and afterwards I had taught Data Analysis for Natural Sciences, relying mostly on Excel and on third-party software. It seemed like the right time to learn to code and develop my own software.

The thing went nowhere (meaning, my R and Python coding skills never saw an application), and I was told quite often…

I can’t see why a geologist should need to learn coding.

Now, interestingly enough – for me, at least – I had already been told similar things a number of times in my past. Let’s see…

High school – I can’t see why anyone should…
… want to learn magic and illusionism.
… want to learn Japanese.
… Spanish.
… French.
… want to read books in English.

University – I can’t see why anyone should want to…
… learn to read tarot.
… learn computer programming.
… learn to play the flute.
… write fantasy and science fiction stories.

My sort of place…

Now before you think I must have lived in a very backwards sort of place, surrounded by blockheads, I must point out all this happened starting in the mid-’80s.
Before of that, the attitude of my teachers and my schoolmates was “Learning something new? Cool!”
Sure, it was also “The kid has too many interests”, but it was all right, really.

What changed?
Two things in my opinion
a . I was now in high school and university, where the focus was on “building your future” (as in, acquire marketable skills).
b . these were the ’80s, and “what’s the use of it?” was the general attitude. We were supposed to be market-oriented.

And a case could be made for the fact that multilingualism, stagecraft and programming can all be highly marketable skills. But they were not “serious skills”, exactly like writing.

Of course, I ignored those comments and went on doing what I liked – and here I am, a happily (well. not-so-happily) multilingual, stage-savvy, programming-able unemployed paleontologist that pays his bills by writing.
Did my less-eclectic colleagues fare better? They did not.

I was given a handbook, recently, as a gift, called Learn Python 3 the Hard Way. I am going through it at a very leisurely pace – fifteen minutes a day, while my dinner cooks. The book has a very hands-on approach to teaching. It builds skill from the bottom up. It’s the right teaching tool for my learning style, and I am making a nice progress – and updating the old Python 2 odds and ends I learned over five years ago.
It will help me add some spice to my CV.
My rule, these last few years, has been to add at least one new skill or certification each year to my CV – considering I will submit it and they will ditch it upon reading it, I may as well provide them with a different read every year.

I am an all out supporter of continued education and of the fun of keeping the brain working by learning new things. It keeps dementia at bay, it keeps us young, and who knows – one day it might give us the opportunity to avoid the poor house and a position as beggar on a street corner. And yet, a few nights back I was talking about this, saying that instead of doing crosswords puzzles in my free time I am learning to code, and guess what I was told.

I can’t see why a man over fifty should want to…

I tried to tell them it’s fun, and a life-saver. They did not get it.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

2 thoughts on “I can’t see why…

  1. I LOVE the idea of adding a new skill or certification every year! Go you!


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