On Feb. 10, 2014, BuzzFeed News published a quiz titled “Should You Learn to Code?” The quiz was designed to tell participants whether their current careers were no longer viable, and if so, if they should grow their technology skills to transition into a new career.
The quiz caught fame, and controversy later sparked over the suggestion that laid-off coal miners should simply “learn to code” to resolve their unemployment problems. Michael Bloomberg and Mark Zuckerburg were just two prominent figures to comment on the notion of transitioning miners into coders. On Nov. 18, 2015, Wired magazine published “Can You Teach a Coal Miner to Code?” further inciting discussion of the issue.
The practice of coding itself was not in question. Instead, the conversation centered on perceived outside elitists telling miners their livelihoods should be replaced. The issue became increasingly political but ultimately fading from the news as most issues do in time.
Note the problem was not the profession—mining coal—but rather the perception of a working class group the journalists didn’t understand. Claims of inadequacy by technological industries can disrespect the working class and the issues they face.
Flash forward to January 2019, when BuzzFeed News laid off a large group of its writers. Many of the journalists who were fired took to social media to vent their frustrations, where they were met with suggestions to “learn to code.” Outrage over the suggestion skyrocketed. When the same journalists who wrote those articles against coal miners faced similar criticism, they were outraged.
In fact, Twitter has banned the use of the phrase “learn to code.” What does this say about the modern state of political affairs? Why was “learn to code” not banned as hate speech when it was used against the peoples of West Virginia, Wyoming and Kentucky? While some of the Twitter users who bothered the laid-off BuzzFeed employees were likely internet trolls, the strange hypocrisy of the journalists is surprising, and still somehow they received more attention than the working class. When viewing this kind of controversy, don’t forget about those who are likely the most impacted–and the least talked about.