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The Coding Skills Parents Need To Keep Up With Tech-Savvy Kids

When you were in elementary school, you barely understood how those free AOL CDs worked. Now your kid is masters coding languages and builds their own apps while you’re still scared to download the latest iOS update.

Pete Franconi is the General Manager for the Atlanta outpost of General Assembly, a learning resource for all things digital. He’s also a veteran of the startup life, and has 2 future coders of his own (2-years-old and 9-months-old). Since it’s hard to take screen time away from your kid when they’re busy updating your website, here are a few of Franconi’s ideas on how to catch up on concepts currently flying over your head like a drone.

It’s Perfectly Logical

Just like learning a foreign language or pitching lefty, coding probably would’ve been easier if you’d started as a kid. But, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. “I think there’s this common misconception that coding is super complicated, but at the end of the day coding is just a series of logic statements put together,” explains Franconi. This would be the same logic that doesn’t work on your kid.

Of course, you hear logic and you think, “I couldn’t even add up my SAT scores.” Relax. “Coding is not just for left-brained individuals who are good at math,” says Franconi. “It can also have a very fun creative outlet to it for those who are artistically inclined.” If you’re neither logical nor artistic — the world needs ditch diggers too.

Learn A Language

For novices, Franconi says HTML and CSS are the first bits of code with which to get comfortable. You may know HTML — it’s how you’re able to see this article. And CSS controls how it’s styled (colors, fonts, sizes, placement). “Both of these are front-end, which means they represent the visual components of what you see on a website,” he explains. “You’re able to make changes to the code, hit refresh on your screen, and see the changes happen in real time. I think there’s something super gratifying about that, that gets people addicted.”

What Language Should You Major In?

Old coding languages are constantly getting new shortcuts. “Technology moves incredibly quickly, but old habits die hard,” says Franconi. “I don’t want to say [these languages will] be irrelevant in some period of time because I’m sure there will be some people still using them, but I do think there has been a current trend to really push code quickly.” Focus on open-source languages, like Ruby, that allow you to borrow already-written code for things like login systems to build new applications quickly. “If you’re using older technology like Java, you’ll be writing many many more lines of code,” he explains. But that’s cool, because you have tons of time, right?

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A Good Family Coding Project

If you’re looking for a coding project to work on together, Franconi recommends constructing a family tree. “Building a website about the family is a great way to get your children involved, and you can incorporate things like photos and different pages for different people,” he says. Sure, you can spend a few bucks for a subscription to Ancestry.com. But, if you want a site that really represents you family, there’s no substitute for customization.

Tools You Can Use

General Assembly’s interactive Dash tutorial will teach you HTML, CSS, and some basic JavaScript for free. It takes 4 to 8 hours to complete — and no judgments if that happens in your underwear. If you’re the type of person who wears pants, you can also seek out an after-work class in your area. “I think that the peer group is really beneficial because sometimes having a complete novice sitting next to you explaining it to you as a complete novice can be helpful, as you’re working through and helping troubleshoot together,” says Franconi.

You Can’t Ignore Progress

Do you want to be the dad who says, “Back in my day, kids looked up from their Game Boys”? Or do you want to get with the times, pops? Understanding and immersing yourself in technology is important because it’s the only way you can protect your kid from pushing the limits too far. “It’s all but impossible today to not interface with technology of some sort, so it’s important to understand what that world looks like,” says Franconi. “Understanding everything going on gives parents a better picture of what they can control.” Which, sadly, isn’t all that much.