Software coding: not just for programmers anymore

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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

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