Why You Should Learn to Code

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We are in the midst of yet another technology revolution. It is a revolution that is creating jobs, while consuming others; a time of innovation and creative expression through lines of code. Tech over the last 30 years has been a series of innovation explosions. As a brief history: the 1980’s saw the rise of the personal computer, closely followed by the internet and dot-com boom of the 90’s. With the late 2000’s came the maturity of broadband internet, social media, tablets and smartphones. Today we are just beginning to understand the possibilities of the cloud, big data, drones, self-driving cars, and the internet of things. This is an exciting era to be a part of, and learning the skills needed to be a part of todays technology industry have never been more accessible. With coding skills, building that next great idea is just a few weekends and several cups of coffee away from being a reality. If building out your idea doesn’t catch on, there are plenty of great paying jobs waiting to be applied for, but software engineers aren’t the only ones learning how to code. Many jobs across all industries are starting to have a need for employees with a basic understanding of coding. In todays world, being able to think computationally and write computer code is becoming as essential a skill as reading and writing. Everyone from fortune 500 companies, to governments are starting to take note of this change. Programming isn’t just for nerds anymore, it is a skill everyone should try to learn.

learnLearning to code has received positive progress in the online and offline world. Recently the US education system has begun playing with the idea of requiring coding classes in public school curriculums, with politicians like Tony Cardenas from Southern California. In 2013 he proposed the bill, “America Can Code”, which seeks to classify computer programming as a foreign language requirement. While this bill is good progress, US public tech education is falling behind other countries. The good news is the private sector has begun to fill the void for quality tech education. An ed tech boom has exploded in the past few years with online resources like Treehouse, CodeSchool, Codecademy, Edx, Khan Academy, and Coursera. These programs are seeking to lower the barrier of entry for learning the fundamental skills needed for a career in technology. There are also brick and mortar Coding trade schools like the Flat Iron School, Dev Bootcamp, and General Assembly. These programs teach the most in-demand programming skills in 6-week – 6 month emersion programs. Galvanize, a coding trade school in Colorado, even offers a money back guarantee. Galvanize claims to refund the entire tuition fee if a student completes their course, but does not receive an entry level job with a salary over $60,000. With so many traditional and alternative learning options available, learning to code has never been easier. Furthermore, tech is one of the few booming industries in todays economy.

american-techTech has been Americas bread and butter over the past 30 years. While US manufacturing jobs have seen steep declines with globalization, tech has experienced a hiring boom for skilled workers. Jobs like manufacturing will not return to the US anytime soon. Even if manufacturing moved back to America, the robotic automation industry would consume the majority of that labor, however with the increase in demand for skilled workers in Americas tech economy, companies are finding it difficult to hire enough qualified US citizens. For all the open positions in tech, many companies have had to rely on importing skilled foreign labor. Tech moguls like Mark Zuckerburg have lobbied to increase the annual allotment of H-1b visas (skilled foreign work visas). US tech companies need to fill the gap between the amount of open tech jobs and available domestic tech talent. As a result, the domestic labor market for talented tech workers is strong. But let’s assume you get it, there’s some great opportunities in tech, but what if you aren’t interested in a traditional programming-type-job? How does learning to code translate to music, art, journalism, or management jobs?

Today programmers are not the only ones that need to understand some coding fundamentals. For example, anyone entering a writing industry, like Journalism, should start getting to know HTML and CSS, at least a little. With newspapers and magazines going online, being able to write and format your articles has never been a more essential skill. Like with journalism, tech has created new niches with this switch to online content. Interactive content is more and more commonplace in online articles, opening new doors for code artists and data crunchers in fields like journalism. Being able to interact with data gives a whole new meaning and context to presenting information. infographicAs an example, we saw the rise of the infographic in the latter 2000’s, but the next revolution is in the interactive infographic. Even interactive video is also already in early development stages, and at the 2014 Fluent Conference Susan E. McGregor demoed an early-stage interactive video prototype. There are real code artists crafting beautiful interactions, designs, and user experiences, and getting paid well while doing it. Coding can transcend to the writer, the artist, the musician, the do-it-yourselfer, the modern-day entrepreneur, or business executive. Knowing the basics can help communicate project ideas to a team of skilled developers.

bossI have experienced the difference between working under executives that do and do not understand the fundamentals of coding. The ability to communicate ideas to developers is paramount in producing a quality product, and execs that don’t understand the development process have a difficult time communicating their needs. Management that understands this cycle are able to execute projects much more efficiently, with realistic time expectations. But leading a development team is one thing, what about building out your next brilliant idea? Knowing how to code is great for that!

I have often explained my own experiences with why I enjoy being a coder through the metaphor of a carpenter. A good carpenter does not just have a hammer. A good carpenter has a tool belt with many different apparatuses to complete his desired task. He has his power drill, measuring tape, hammer, and maybe a sledge hammer for when big things need knocking down. A talented carpenter might even be able to build his own house if he has the proper time and has acquired the appropriate tools and skills. Just like the carpenter, a skilled coder can build their own hacker tool belt of programming skills. One programmer with the right combination of skills can take a minimum viable product substantially far.

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As an example, Facebook acquired Instagram for 1 billion US dollars. At that time Instagram had 13 total employees, and was founded only 2 years prior. Facebook also offered 3 billion to buy Snapchat, which rejected the offer with it’s < 20 employees while negotiating a funding round valuing the startup at over 3.5 billion. Facebook also acquired WhatsApp and it’s 55 employees for 19 billion dollars. Most of these companies had much of the MVP groundwork code written by a couple co-founders. These ‘code carpenters’ were able to build their metaphorical house with their coding abilities, at the reward of billions of dollars. These examples may be the acquisition payout lottery winners, but that doesn’t mean that the rest of the greater coding community is slaving away from chump change. The median wage for a Software Engineer in 2013 was $73,000 in America, and a Senior Software Engineer median salary was $96,000. The majority of the top 25 paid internships of 2013 were in the tech sector. Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn alone paid their interns a median $6,500 a month!

Learning to code isn’t just about landing a job in the tech industry, it’s about staying relevant for the future globalized job market. Right now, knowing how to code will give you a leg up on the competition, but in the near future knowing the basics of coding may be as common as reading and writing. Especially in America where the Great Recession removed so many jobs, learning to code could be a great way to become more hirable. It is increasingly common that businesses interact with computers or the internet, so even business leaders should understand whats going on behind the scenes in order to better communicate requirements to engineers. But learning how to code should be pursued for more than job security. With the right set of skills and a good idea, you could build the next Facebook, Google, or Instagram. Coding isn’t just for nerds anymore, so get out there and try it!

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Riley scribbled this article down on: March 21, 2014
  • Mark Hilliard

    Very tight article that should get the attention of those sitting on the fence about how to incorporate coding into their résumé. Access is key to learning, and as you point out, there are many viable learning alternatives that work at the users pace and at a price point to meet even someone in a tight financial position.

    Although my old school tool belt is pretty full, I may have to gear up on a good online coding curriculum! Or maybe, I’ll just hire you to do my bidding…

  • Jay

    Caught this through your other article describing your self taught journey. I must say I’ve been intrigued by coding for some time and have even taken online HTML and CSS courses in the past. I even tried to self teach a little bit last year on CodeAcademy but fizzled. I think the paid route of Treehouse may give me the motivation to stick with it and not only give me a chance to deepen my understanding of computers, but maybe change careers!

    Great article and site, thanks!

    • Sean Jackson

      Codecademy is a great starter however it should be supplemented with Treehouse and that should be supplemented with Code School.

      • MrDarkside

        Or you could just sign up to Lynda.com.