It seems like the coding revolution is about to take schools by storm. Policymakers and entrepreneurs alike are pushing the next generation of workers to learn the ins and outs of computer programming like the current workforce knows its reading, writing and ‘rithmetic. But what about those of us whose fundamental classroom days are a distant memory? Many of us use computers all day long. Should our employers include learning to “speak computer” in employee training and onboarding?
All for coding
Whether or not employees work at the latest tech startup, they interact with computers and the Internet to accomplish many of their day-to-day tasks.
Mike Nicholson paints a picture of how coding knowledge could be useful to people in the advertising industry. “Just as it’s important for everyone in an agency to understand broadly how a press ad or a TV spot is produced, even if one doesn’t do that oneself, it’s important to have an appreciation of the capabilities and constraints of the digital channel,” Nicholson, director of strategic planning at OgilvyAction, tells The Build Network. “It makes you better at your job and more valuable to your client and your agency.”
Nicholson says that he taught himself to code and that it’s helped him communicate better with both clients and Ogilvy’s developers, but some companies are making coding a requisite for jobs.
At Yipit, a site that recommends daily deals based on users' locations and interests, everyone learns to code. Founder Vinicius Vacanti equates it to learning the language of any trade. “In finance, everyone learns accounting," says Vacanti. "It’s not because everyone is going to be an accountant but because it’s the language of finance. At a tech startup, code is that language. The idea isn’t for everyone to become a developer but for everyone to learn the language of tech startups.”
Coding knowledge doesn’t just help non-technical workers roles talk to developers. The benefits go both ways, Daniel Cane says. At his firm Modernizing Medicine, which designs electronic record-keeping systems for hospitals and doctors' offices, the staff includes 16 physicians — all of whom write code. Cane says that having doctors work on the system is much better than trying to pick their brains and then have developers build a product that will work in the field.
"Banking, law, accounting, architecture — there are plenty of fields where training subject-matter experts to be programmers would make a lot of sense," he tells CNN Money. "You could offer products and services to customers that most engineers and developers simply don't have the knowledge to design."
Rewards-program software company Rakuten Loyalty uses Codecademy’s platform to teach all of its non-technical staff how to code. But some say forcing workers to code isn’t practical.
“You’re not going to teach a coal miner to code,” former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said at a conference earlier this month. His comment was part of a discussion about how to incorporate workers displaced from closing coal mines back into the workforce. "Mark Zuckerberg says you can teach them to code and everything will be great. I don't know how to break it to you, but no," Bloomberg said.
While his comments are unique to a particular problem and industry, they raise some interesting questions about the call to arms to learn programming overnight.
Like any language, computer language evolves over time, and learning bits and pieces out of context won’t stick, argues software engineer Chase Felker.
“Restricting yourself to learning about the technology du jour makes it easy to memorize habits rather than thinking them through,” he says. “Eventually those technologies and programming languages will go out of style, and you’ll need a flexible understanding to tweak your habits for the next thing.”
Just because someone knows how to code doesn’t mean she’s developed critical problem-solving skills. “We don’t need everyone to code — we need everyone to think. And unfortunately, it is very easy to code without thinking,” Felker says.
Coding in context
While improved knowledge of coding isn't an end-all be-all for singlehandedly conquering issues like the skills gap, it might help non-technical staff communicate with developers and better understand how a company’s products work. Will you add programming to your HR onboarding soon?