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Software coding: not just for programmers anymore

The belief that everyone should learn to write software is gaining more credence. Even New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg promised to learn to code this year. (It’s unclear if he’s followed through, but Bloomberg was a computer science major so he probably still knows his way around a keyboard.) The thinking is that if all the people who use software actually understand how to build software, everyone’s better off.

FreeCause, a Boston-based arm of Rakuten, a Japanese e-commerce company, is teaching all 60 employees JavaScript as part of an effort to narrow the tech divide, according to a recent Boston Globe story.  “I thought that this would facilitate more efficiency, bring our teams closer together and ultimately make our company perform better,” FreeCause CEO Michael Jaconi told the Globe.

Zach Sims, co-founder and president of Codecademy — which offers online coursework to teach coding and which FreeCause uses — clearly wants this trend to continue. In a recent interview, he told me many other companies including digital ad agencies are using Codecademy, but couldn’t share names. Courses in JavaScript and HTML/CSS are the most popular, Sims said, because either of those skills enable a user to “pretty much build a web site in the easiest and most visual way.”  JavaScript use is mandated by browsers and is thus pretty much the language du jour.

Journalists wanting to do investigative reporting find it easier to crunch data when they really know the underlying tools. The same holds true for attorneys who have to pore through reams of documents, he added.

Codecademy is a hot startup in this space, but it’s by no means alone. MIT’s MITx program (now dubbed EdX) aims to make university curricula — including computer programming coursework — available for free.  MIT and other EDx partners, including Harvard University, obviously see a market here.

That’s not to say there isn’t some push back. Some skeptics say professional programmers in these companies are called on to mentor their colleagues and this can be draining. And, if everyone’s a programmer, it’s harder for the pros to differentiate themselves, according to one programmer, Dan Frost, in an article in .net magazine.

We’re in a world where coding is becoming less impressive. Everyone builds sites, some of them code but you don’t have to. It’s no longer just the nerdy who can create sites, apps and features.

Since the web came along and people could teach themselves there have been self-taught developers. But even the graduates are under threat. I get CVs with people with computer science degrees, AI courses, various media and coding under their belt but there’s still something missing. Sometimes a lot missing.

Sims, for his part, thinks the everyone-will-code trend is inevitable as technology advances. In a Fast Company post,  he wrote:

As technology improves, white-collar jobs are going to be increasingly outsourced to machines. But if you’re worried about your job, there is an easy solution: Society’s increasing dependence on automation means it’s more important than ever to understand the systems that we depend on every day.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock user isak55

12 Responses to “Software coding: not just for programmers anymore”

  1. I think the world is changing for better and bigger cause very rapidly… Technology can make life better for people who embrace and worse for people left behind… truth is bitter so embrace it while you can..

  2. Would Shakespeare be a great author if he was illiterate? I think that is the perspective the ones who want to “push” it on everyone may see it from.

    But I would have to agree that specialization of labor is how we are able to function as a society; it is pretty much a corner stone of civilization.

    In the end, however, the programming grunts that have been pushing code around on square wheels will figure out a better wheel which will make it easier for everyone to interact with code – code that interacts with the code to create new code as a tool. Then everyone will be able to create without having to need to know how the much smaller pieces actually work. You paint but don’t move every molecule individually don’t you? You move the brush and it does the rest.

    Even then, there will be savants of code, and Leonardos and Raphaels of code. Many will shine much brighter when it comes to new pieces of software when history looks back.

  3. This is very valuable, in that it is raising the curiosity of the functional userbase of any system. Our supply of STEM professionals is very low, even though it is very clear that our economy is poised for success by increased productivity in the STEM fields. Not everyone will become programmers, but there is definitely a middle layer. There is a huge demand for techno-functional experts that bridge the technology between the programmers who create it and the users that need it optimized for their specific purposes. That “technician” layer is missing right now and these programs will spearhead a creation of a whole new industry. The programming “technician”.

  4. I agree that it would do good to most people to have some programming skills. It’s a lot like needing (some) writing skills even though we are all not writers.

    I believe in time to come, programming will become almost as pervasive as the need to write. is another resource for those who want to learn programming or Computer Science with a supportive peer community (Disclosure: I am the founder of diycomputerscience).

  5. Great piece. The New York Code & Design Academy is offering evening, hands-on intensive coding classes in New York. Designed for beginners, our project-based workshops instruct students in HTML, HTML5, CSS, Javascript and Ruby on Rails. For more information, please visit

    Thanks, Jeremy

  6. More people want to learn how to code.
    It is good trend. Very good.
    More people will find their own way in IT.
    More good sw engineers, sw designers.
    More good sw they will produce in future.

    Coding skill is not so complex to learn.
    It is complex to become pro developer.
    You need to practice this skill really hard.
    It’s a long long way between “I can code” to “I can code a product”.
    Only those, who really like this process, can make this way.


    I think it’s likely that developers will build systems so accessible to laypeople, for instance, ‘data crunching’ platforms, that the rudimentary code currently being taught to laypeople will be a waste of time.

  8. Back in the stone age, programming was a task for accountants and businesspeople. It wasn’t considered a job track all of its own. That’s still the case in many scientific disciplines; what happened is that desktop computers went mainstream and higher level, more difficult and less purpose driven languages took over. developers now create applications and enviironemnts for Joe User to interact with- it used to be business types running programs to solve math problems. There’s a potential to get back to something like that as we abstract ourselves right out of applications and infrastructure, but developer jobs aren’t going anywhere. Good article

  9. Brett Neese

    Even though I’m a nerd and a (junior) developer, I have to admit that I don’t like this. If our technology is so complex that we have to teach people how it’s built in order for them to understand it, then someone is not doing their job. It’s the goal of developers and designers to make technology invisible. Ideally, most non-tech people shouldn’t even have to sit at a computer all day. Their environment should mold and give them the tools and advantages that advanced systems provides, without them even realizing what’s happening.

    Someone who is skilled at pottery may enjoy sitting in a art studio all day producing pots and and bowls and vases, but the vast majority of people don’t have to go through their work in order to utilize the advantages that having bowls in provides. Similarly, someone who is skilled as developing software may enjoy writing systems and tools for other’s too use, but the end user only cares about the end it helps them achieve, because that’s all that should really matter.

    • Rocio Ramos

      Brett, I agree 100%. I work for tech company and, well I wouldn’t say I’m being forced to learn to code, but HTML seems to be the first step. I like writing and doing marketing, so why am I being asked to learn HTML now, and trying to figure out codes in webpages? Well although I appreciate the insight, I’d rather leave the coding to you guys!