Do you know your HTML from your SQL? If you’re an entrepreneur or start-up employee working outside the tech sector you may not see coding as essential. But, as more industries become digitally disrupted and jobs become more precarious, it might just be a skill worth having.
Work trends indicate that software development is one of the fastest growing industries and that coders are in short supply. The UK will need 2.3 million digital-savvy workers by 2020 to power its economy, according to research carried out by O2. But businesses are struggling to meet demands.
The consequence of not investing in coding training is that businesses may get left behind. So, while you may not be part of a company that is developing apps or games or manages some cloud-based system, your job may very well involve overseeing the content production for a website or dealing with invoices and client details that requires some level of input into a database. And it’s here having even a basic understanding of coding can make the difference.
For Jesse Onslow, co-director of Flibl, a small communications consultancy, learning to code has been a productivity boost. When Flibl needed a contact manager to keep track of and source freelancers, Onslow “found that there wasn’t anything that provided the exact functionality” he required, so he decided to build one himself.
“I realised I’d found the excuse I’d been looking for to develop my coding skills,” he says. “Our work culture is very collaborative and development-oriented, so we do a lot of learning by doing. In theory, creating a contact manager seemed like a simple task, but learning how to build something like this from scratch was a challenge.”
As Dr Andy Walshe, head of high performance at Red Bull, said in his recent Virgin Disruptors talk, in every challenge you should see an opportunity. For Onslow, this opportunity was not only a chance to develop a skill that he’d wanted to learn for a while, but a chance to make it easier to manage the company’s workload. And without needing to outsource the job and pay someone else to build the system for them.
Gi Fernando, co-founder of Freeformers, a digital training and education company that has worked with FTSE 100 organisations, argues that it’s not learning code per se that is important, but “the mindset you get from creating something out of nothing, then finding out stuff you thought easy is actually hard, and other things you thought hard is actually easy”.
Think of APIs as a huge tub of Lego bricks, Fernando says. Having APIs that fit together like Lego will help in exploring new opportunities in the increasingly interconnected world. Business leaders need to be able to make decisions around security, data, software and hardware, and without understanding how APIs are the building blocks to creative solutions they might not be fit to lead in the digital age. “We don’t need more people who can simply take a written specification and turn it into a website, we need engineers who solve problems for people and communities.”
Companies are realising this and are actively encouraging employees, especially those that don’t have direct involvement in the product-side of things, to explore and learn coding. Eva Tkavc is a PR executive at Lost My Name, which produces personalised books for children. Though her background is in research and strategy, she has attended workshops teaching Ruby to those under-represented in tech.
It helps blur the lines, says Tkavc. Workplace dynamics are continually shifting and there isn’t always such a thing as a definite role. Employees often find themselves working across departments or helping out on projects that would usually be outside their expertise. In a company where “culture is open and cross-team cooperation is in place,” she adds, that knowledge can lead to better collaboration and, consequently, more productive results and solutions.
So could all employees be required to learn code in the future? Probably not, says Onslow. But he does believe that everybody will be expected to identify and understand code if presented with it.
“As we become increasingly dependent on software for nearly all aspects of work, understanding code will become a fundamental part of digital literacy, in the same way search or social media is now.”
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