Is Coding the New Literacy?

In today’s increasingly connected world, coding may be the ‘in’ thing to learn. There is a growing body of opinion that, to be literate in today’s world, you have to learn how to code.

Photo from hackNY via Creative Commons

Photo from hackNY via Creative Commons

The importance of coding cannot be overemphasized. According to GonnaBe CEO and co-founder Hank Leber, quoted in Adam Popescu’s Coding is the Must-Have Job Skill of the Future, coding is the battle of the tech literate vs. the tech illiterate. And ‘literacy’ won’t refer to one’s ability to read about new technology or report on it, but creating it. Thus, according to Leber, coding is the new literacy.

There are five factors that will help boost coding’s popularity now and well into the future:

The growing number of schools, both traditional campuses and online ones, that are focused on teaching coding

The number of schools that offer coding courses have increased in the past few years. Startups focus on teaching coding are sprouting up everywhere. In the article entitled, Could Coding be the Next Mass Profession, Roy Bahat, Head of venture fund Bloomberg Beta, writes:

They’re handing out Gutenberg printing presses out there: with services like Treehouse (I’m a dues-paying member) and Codecademy (and its expertly-timed year of code), countless university courses free online, Google Code University, the warm embrace of Stack Overflow, in-person courses like Dev Bootcamp,summer camps for kids, even the promise of a one-day result with Decoded (the six-minute abs of learning to code), and great organizations like CodeNow (which I’ve been supporting) reaching out to teach code in underserved communities.

Tying this up with the movement to foster STEM education, Bahat adds:

In the U.S., the STEM line of thinking is about creating the next generation of scientists. In computing, this is even reflected in what we call the study of programming — computer “science.” We could be doing something different (and complementary), teaching students to be makers, not scientists: creating the next generation who can hack, beget, get paid right away, and maybe become entrepreneurs. Learning this would make the high school experience more rewarding, because it would have an immediate result.

The growth of big data

In the last year, interest in big data and its practical applications have grown, in both the public and private sectors. With big data expected to continue growing this year and the next, coding know-how becomes even more relevant. The future belongs to the companies and people that turn data into products. Quoted in Popescu’s article, C.J. Windisch, lead engineer and co-founder of location-based app GonnaBe, says:

The value of coding is learning how to use data to drive decisions. We see it everywhere from statistical analysis in baseball to politics with Barack Obama’s data-driven election team. Understanding data at that scale requires a computer to run numbers, not a calculator. In today’s big data world, that means coding.

Coding’s growing value to employers

As technological innovations drive tomorrow’s growth, software becomes more important. Even hardware, that TV and all those electronic gadgets that have become part of our everyday lives, run on software. As demand for these products grow, so does the demand for coders. Not knowing how to code is incongruous to this future trend. Potential employers will excoriate you for not learning coding.

In the article, Maybe We’re in a Bubble but it Doesn’t Matter, Justin.TV founder Justin Kan writes:

The reality of the world is that software, specifically Internet enabled software, is becoming a part of every business. Marc Andreessen said “software is eating the world,” and by that he meant that as time goes on, every industry is becoming a software industry. Old incumbents in retail, service industries, medicine and every other industry are being or will be disrupted by software companies created by younger (at least in mindset) entrepreneurs that have a better grasp of the implications of a world where every human being has an Internet-connected computer in their pocket.

Related to the previous item, the growth of structural unemployment

The last US recession saw thousands of jobs in the manufacturing and services sectors lost. Technological innovations in these sectors did not help; instead, they made these jobs obsolete. The trend is expected to continue in the years ahead; technology will increasingly replace humans in the production lines; service workers will no longer be needed as software takes over their roles.

In Recession, Tech Kill Middle-Class Jobs, Bernard Condon and Paul Wiseman write:

Most of the jobs will never return, and millions more are likely to vanish as well, say experts who study the labor market. What’s more, these jobs aren’t just being lost to China and other developing countries, and they aren’t just factory work. Increasingly, jobs are disappearing in the service sector, home to two-thirds of all workers. “They’re being obliterated by technology.

What’s the solution? Go to a sector where jobs are least likely to get obsolete. Try to go to the technology sector, where you can get hired as a coder. Before you can do that, though, you must learn to code. The comeuppance for not learning to code could render you unemployed.

Justin Kan, in the same article quoted previously, says:

Anyone who tells you that you shouldn’t be in tech, or that the current market situation will create an oversupply of people in tech, is doing you a massive disservice. You should be in tech if you can stomach it at all. Furthermore, “technology” has tentacles that are beginning to reach into every industry (fashion, journalism, medicine, manufacturing, etc), and thus there is almost certainly something for you to be interested in regardless of what you do. Yes, in the event of an investment down cycle it will be harder to find a job (or get funding for your company), but it is just as likely that you won’t even have a job in another industry, because that job will be being done or made irrelevant by someone else’s software.

Coding’s growing importance to entrepreneurial success

Items 3 and 4 above lead to our last factor: coding know-how is increasingly seen as a barometer for startup success. If you’re an entrepreneur, you must learn how to code. As all the factors above point out, the future will be run by a kind of oligarchy, which is software.

In Non-Technical Founder? Learn to Hack, Sam Altman, CEO and co-founder of location-based social networking application Loopt, explains:

When people like this say “I’ll do whatever it takes to make this business successful” (which they almost always say), I say something like “Why not learn to hack? Although it takes many, many years to become a great hacker, you can learn to be good enough to build your site or app in a few months. And even if you’re not going to build the next version, if you’re going to run a software company, it seems like a good idea to know a little bit about it.

Startup founders know this; even those with no coding background are starting to learn how to code. Case in point: Yipit CEO and co-founder Vinicius Vacanti. When he founded Yipit in 2008, Vacanti had no coding experience whatsoever. However, Vacanti learned how to code and went on to build Yipit. In his article, Everyone at Yipit is Now Learning to Code, Vacanti, lauding and explaining Yipit’s mentoring program for its employees, states that the the goal isn’t for everyone to become full developers but rather for everyone to learn the language of tech startups, to make better decisions, to become more self-sufficient, to truly become entrepreneurs within Yipit.

To be sure, not everyone will be a prolific coder. However, given its growing importance now and in the years to come, we will be well advised not to ignore the trend and to learn how to code as much as we can.

After reading all of the above, where would you want to be? Justin Kan advises, “You want to be in the tech game, because in time it will be the only game in town.”

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