On Math & Programming

jsI’ve been told on multiple occasions by other programmers that “you don’t need math to program”. This is often said by people who actually learned math – or at the very least more math than I did. While I understand what they’re thinking (“the computer does the math for you”), they have a skillset that someone like me, someone who barely made it to negative numbers before being given up on, doesn’t have.
The educational neglect I suffered because of religious and patriarchal ideals is no secret. Despite how many times I’ve heard “you’ll never use algebra every day” the skills I lack because I wasn’t taught math is overwhelming and painful. I hit a cap in my ability to learn programming because I was missing the math skills. Not arithmetic specifically, but problem solving: being able to look at a problem and creatively come up with a solution.
At it’s core, that’s what math is, and that’s exactly what programming is. In the three weeks that I’ve been taking math – even though I’m just re-learning basic things – my ability to learn programming languages has drastically improved.
Math is a set of variables and functions just like programming languages are. They can mean and do different things depending on the context and which modifier is called. I knew my problem was math because I couldn’t figure out how to even approach complex problems in programming after there were several different variables and methods called. I didn’t have the ability to look at what I needed to do and figure out a way to get there.
Essentially, I couldn’t solve for x. I’m not even at algebra yet, but just approaching numbers as variables in math has made it so much easier to code. The invisible problem solving skills that math gives you aren’t meant to be looked over, neglected, or treated as unimportant. You may not solve an algebraic equation on a whiteboard every day, but if you’re programming, you’re problem solving, and math is where that skill is at.
Math, as a person who was denied it – as a person whose education was abruptly ended for them before they turned 16 – is so vitally important in ways that people who had the opportunity to learn (and even hate) math don’t understand. My math education stopped at pre-algebra and prior to that was largely substituted for cooking for 8 people multiple times a day. My lack of math was the reason I wasn’t able to teach myself Chemistry II (which I was really looking forward to), it’s kept me from improving professionally, and who knows how many doors have been kept shut because I wasn’t considered to have a reason to learn math.
If you want to be helpful don’t tell me that I don’t need math in order to be better at programming, because I do. I can see everyone else using math, oh so clearly, when they don’t realize it. Because at it’s core, programming is just fancy math doing stuff in a creative way.


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