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Advice for biologists learning about coding: don’t learn outdated technology

July 20, 2017

As a biologist who learned how to code to solve my problems and answer biological questions, here’s some advice to those like me: don’t learn outdated technology.

This will sound ananthema to a lot of what computational biologists do and tell each other. Yes, this means you will have to spend half a day porting that crusty Python 2.4 module to Python 3.

But you know what? You will think a lot about that code when you’re doing it. You will think, wow, that’s a bug (and fix it quickly). You will think, wow, I could dump this entire part and replace with a nice open source implementation (PyMC!?). You may think, wow, I wonder if somebody else has written a PDB parser in Python since 2002? And you may just find a wonderful open source package with a vibrant community that you can now become a part of.

Or you just learn some Python 3 (so worth it). My point is that, as a biologist, you are not a computer scientist. And you sure as hell aren’t a historian of computer science.

You may as well learn the current state of the art. Or even the next thing. After all, you are responsible for bringing back what you find to the rest of us biologists.