Computer programming: the future of science

Until last week, my understanding of the inner machinations of computers was reduced to the “black magic and the vile sorcery of the Hobgoblins.”

When my research mentor suggested I try my hand at programming simulations for our project, it felt like he asked me to pick up space travel as my new hobby. “But I’m not a warlock!” seemed like the appropriate response. “Such work is for the Cheetos stained fingers of a computer scientist!” I said.

I reluctantly downloaded the appropriate software, dirtied my soft and delicate biologist hands and learned some coding.

If you have ever had any desire to learn how science works, I recommend learning to code things on a computer.

What amazes me about computer programming is how accessible it is. An aspiring physicist can spend years in school and never have an opportunity to do actual science in the field. On the other hand, any shmuck with a computer and halfway decent Internet connection can start coding pretty much right away.

Science has almost always occurred behind closed doors, keeping all but those who dedicate a great deal of time and capital on education and networking with industry leaders from contributing.

To anyone who cannot participate due to fortune or fate in other fields of science, a whole new world to discover is right there in their computer.

Science is the engine that runs this world right now and it will be the scientific method that furthers mankind. It is a great disservice to not understand the scientific process in this current age of technology — especially since the open nature of computers provides opportunities to participate in actual, productive scientific work.

Learning to program is apparently a matter of learning to solve problems. The problems faced by the programming community are so numerous that many organizations provide open-source software, giving everyone access to the code so that those who want to participate in the field can tinker and improve other people’s work.

With patience and time, anyone can write their own software and learn what it is like to participate in research and scientific development.

Many people don’t see computer programming as a science and I know I certainly didn’t before trying it out myself. But it is a very legitimate science.

Experimentation, learning through trial and error and the failures that plague the lives of scientists are part of the programming experience. Every small victory is hard fought, but the lessons learned through these triumphs add to our knowledge and ability.

Those who have been unable to participate in other fields of science have so much to gain from learning programming. Not only will they learn a valuable skill-set and better understand the devices they use every day, they will learn about the very process that drives all of the innovation in the world today.

Learning to program not only makes good computer users; it makes them scientists in their own right.

 

Reach the columnist at Jacob.evans@asu.edu or follow him at @jacobevansSP.

 

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