You Must Become a Sovereign Programmer

While the real world continues to stagnate in areas like housing, transportation, and energy, the world of computing and the internet continues to innovate. Most recently, ChatGPT, Midjourney, and other innovations in AI made distinct, visual progress. Progress is almost entirely seen through the screen of computers.

To make the most out of all this innovation, you must be able to program. If you aren’t a programmer already, the average usage of the computer only scratches the surface. Limited amounts of computing innovation is accessible in the user interfaces. Much of the innovation in infrastructure, services, and interfaces are only accessible to big companies with resources and specialization.

For example, ChatGPT is great, but the people getting the most out of it are building their own wrappers or programs utilizing it. They are adding extra context to inputs to get tailored outputs. They are building it into their business processes or launching new products. This creates more value than the average person is getting out of ChatGPT.

The gap between those leveraging the continued innovation in computing and those not continues to increase. Those leveraging computing will control and influence more of the world. To maintain your independence, you must know how to program. You must become a sovereign programmer.

What does it mean to be a programmer?

Programming does not mean being a professional software engineer. You don’t need to write massive amounts of code or get a computer science degree. Programming, in the computer sovereignty case, means:

  • using the computer quickly, understanding the tools at your disposal. For example, using software to automate and simplify tasks or learning the keyboard shortcuts to products you use regularly.
  • understanding the concepts of computing, the internet, and software, and what each is doing. For example, understanding the basic components of a computer or what happens when you visit a web page from your browser to a web server.
  • writing basic programs and scripts, using APIs, and configuring software. For example, creating and hosting a Next.js landing page on Vercel, scraping a webpage to add data to a spreadsheet, or writing an SQL statement to get data from a database.

Continued innovation in technology means that this has gotten simpler and easier to learn. A combination of YouTube and GitHub can teach you everything. There is an abundance of tutorials, guides, and examples for you to learn from (I linked some recommendations above). AI is helping learning materials get increasingly customized too.

The tools for sovereign programmers have increased and improved too. Replit, Copilot, and Codeium help you code. Vercel, Netlify, Heroku, AWS, Digital Ocean, and more make it easier and cheaper to host sites, apps, and scripts. Modern frameworks and tools like Next.js, Supabase, Nest.js, and FastAPI integrate innovations and make them accessible. Progress is continuing.

All this means that if you want to capitalize on all of these benefits, you must be able to program. You might hear people saying “don’t learn to program.” What they mean is you don’t need to be a professional software developer. If you want to benefit from innovation in computing, you need to know how to program.

What does this have to do with sovereignty?

What happens if you don’t know how to program? Simply put, you lose sovereignty.

Sovereignty is the ability to do what you want. The user interfaces innovation is behind limits sovereignty. You are less dependent on companies or other people to give you the tools to use computers. You can create and automate with computers on your own.

Being a sovereign programmer helps you make better decisions about technology. You don’t have to rely on others telling you what’s best if you understand technology enough to control it. You have a better idea of the tools and can leverage them for your needs.

If big organizations are the only ones who can benefit from the innovations in computing, they will encroach on your sovereignty. They will try to expand the gap between what you can do and what they can do, and make money on the difference. This is “capturing value” and they will limit your ability to do things if it means they can capture more value.

You see this with ChatGPT as well. OpenAI limits how you can use ChatGPT. Of course, for them, there are fewer limits. Their business partners, like Microsoft, can do more with the models that create ChatGPT than the average person.

Control of computing in the hands of a small number of organizations is bad for individuals. Monopolies innovate less and exert control more. With people able to program, innovation in computing for individuals will continue. This maintains their sovereignty and freedom to leverage computers.

Embracing computers is how humanity advances

Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking about them. – Alfred North Whitehead

Computing increases the number of important operations humanity can do without thinking. Being a sovereign programmer provides individuals with their share of this benefit. They can continue to flourish as people.

Without sovereign programmers, a larger share of these benefits goes to large organizations. The individual becomes less important, and less gets built for them. This negative loop makes the average person’s life worse and increases the control big organizations have over individuals. It limits peoples’ sovereignty. This is not the future I want.

For all those reasons, you should learn your keyboard shortcuts, write a Python script, study how AI works, and build the skills you need to become a sovereign programmer.

Thanks to the Fosterati for the feedback.

Let me know what you think on Twitter.

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