Call me crazy, but this whole Internet thing seems like it’s really catching on. Barring the planet-wide collapse of civilization, it’s pretty safe bet that computers will just keep getting more important to our lives. Maybe now is a good time to understand how they work.

Mashable says coding is “21st-Century literacy.” As a blogger, I’m still at a Sesame Street level. Douglas Rushkoff frames the issue quite starkly for me in the title of his book: Program or be Programmed. “Choose the former,” says Rushkoff, “and you gain access to the control panel of civilization. Choose the latter, and it could be the last real choice you get to make.”

Damn. I think I’ll go with the former. For as long as I’ve been hanging around the startup community (and contributing to ExitEvent), I should at least have a firmer grasp of what a front-end dev does.

My working theory is that by combining my digital content-making experience with actual computer coding skills, I will transform into a 21st-century Superman, endowed with the power to launch scalable startups, command million-dollar salaries, and inexplicably wear the same outfit every day (which, come to think of it, is what the real Superman does).

And so last week I Googled ‘how to code’ and clicked on the first result, Codecademy, an interactive series of tutorials that calls itself “the easiest way to learn how to code.” Perfect. I paid the full price of zero dollars to join and started out with Web Fundamentals: Introduction to HTML.

Now I’m five days in, and according to Codeacedmy, I am killing it. They weren’t kidding about the easy part. Working for about thirty minutes a day through lessons that amount to simple logic puzzles, I’ve already got 17 achievement badges. Codecademy just sent me an email telling me that in another week I’ll be a “coding pro.”

In practice, here are some things I’ve learned:

  • Why HTML code looks like that – turns out that jumbled mash is really quite logical.
  • How to change the color, style, and size of text.
  • What CSS stands for and how it makes websites prettier. (And no, I won’t reveal its meaning in this article. As a newly enshrined member of the technocratic elite, I’ve been sworn to secrecy.)
  • How to make a button for a website.
  • How to create a table of images that are linked to other websites.
  • How to make the bullet-pointed list you’re reading right now.

In other words, I now have the power to create websites from 1995. But still – that’s way more than I knew five days ago. Next week I might even catch up to this millenium.

In all seriousness, I can already tell that understanding the structure of code will be useful even if I never get paid to write it. I might not have all the answers, but I’m already better at asking the right questions. I’ve always considered myself a nerd. But now I’m beginning to understand nerdery on a much deeper level. Indeed, Codecademy’s most valuable lesson so far is that I like coding.

But have my basic HTML skills granted me access to the control panel of civilization?

You tell me.

Note: James will continue his journey and take you along for the ride. Worst case, you can laugh at him. We mean with him.