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Why coding is the new 'language' of the world

person-coding

By Steve Weston, Chief Information Officer, Hays

Since early history, humans have crafted languages in order to communicate better. From the hieroglyphics of the Egyptians to the classical Latin of ancient Rome, languages have evolved and grown into the recognisable tongues we know today. Fast forward to the 21st century and the language that’s becoming more and more popular is that of zeros and ones, of brackets and asterisks, of ampersands and exclamation points. The name of that language? Coding.

You’re using coding right now

Are you reading this on a mobile, tablet or a computer? Did you log into a desktop this morning, or make use of a security pass to get into your building? Do you regularly speak to colleagues, clients and customers via video conferencing? If the answer to any one of those questions is ‘yes’ then you’ll indirectly be using coding every day. Every machine or device that we use, relies on coding somewhere along the line – and with roles becoming increasingly digitised, most of us would struggle to do our jobs without it.

Beyond the world of work, code is being used to change lives all over the world. IBM hosted a 2019 challenge called ‘Call for Code’ which invited developers to create technical solutions to natural disasters such as earthquakes, volcanoes and wildfires – using coding in an open source environment to solve complex real-world problems. Coding isn’t just the future of work, it’s the future of the world we live in.

What are the different coding languages?

In its most basic sense, coding is translating logical actions into a language that a computer will understand. This allows us to tinker with apps, create software and websites, play video games and much more. If we think of ‘coding’ as the overall means of communication – the voice, then all the different languages are the regional dialects – they’re all words and phrases that are used to communicate with a machine, just expressed in slightly different ways.

Each coding language is designed with a different operating system, platform, coding style and intended use in mind. The common ones you’ll hear are languages such as JavaScript, Python, SQL, PHP, Ruby, Java, and C alongside more modern flavours like Rust, Swift, and Hack – though there are many, many more.

Why teaching coding should be just as important as teaching a foreign language

According to data from Gartner, connected ‘things’ (such as mobiles, tablets and smart watches) will far outstrip the world’s population by 2020, with the expectation that we’ll see over 20 billion devices in use. It makes sense, then, to try and understand the languages of the most widely used things on the planet – our devices. Then, we can better connect, teach and improve what they achieve.

In fact, at a conference I recently attended, when asked, “Which language should I encourage my children to learn?” economic analyst, Pippa Malmgren replied, “coding”. So, maybe now is the time we start to consider ‘coding’ as a foreign language that should be taught with the same reverence as students are taught Spanish, French or English. Tim Cook, Apple CEO seems to agree. In an excerpt taken from this interview, he says: “If I were a French student and I were 10 years old, I think it would be more important to learn coding than English. I’m not telling people not to learn English — but this is a language that you can [use to] express yourself to 7 billion people in the world. I think coding should be required in every public school in the world”.

The non-profit organisation Code.org agrees. As a group, they are dedicated to expanding access to computer science in schools and increasing participation by women and underrepresented minorities, and strive to see coding taught as part of a standard curriculum. They also arrange the annual ‘Hour of Code’ campaign – a worldwide, one-hour event that celebrates and demystifies coding. According to Code.org over 15% of all students in the world have engaged in an Hour of Code campaign.

It’s not just young people, yet to enter the workforce, that should put coding at the top of their ‘must learn’ list – it’s all of us. From the freelancer needing to make website edits, to the finance team wrapping their heads around budget models – coding is for everyone and learning how it works will make us better at our jobs.

Clever businesses show a dedication to upskilling their existing workforce and tackling the skills gap through personalised training and the encouragement of lifelong learning. Their recruitment strategies also focus on hiring early talent into the coding space, whilst graduate programmes and apprenticeships tap into early careers, and school talks, code-athons and work experience programmes are used to encourage and inspire the next generation of coding talent. The key take from this, is that it’s becoming increasingly important that organisations actively their support employees need to upskill – not only will they be thankful for the job security it provides, they’ll become a hugely valuable resource for your team, now and in the future.

Coding skills will help us coexist with technology

You’d be forgiven for thinking coding is something reserved for techies or mathematicians – a privilege for the few. The thing is, as the world of work changes and more roles and tasks are automated, it pays to future proof your career. According to McKinsey, AI and automation will transform the nature of work and the workplace. They predict that machines will be able to carry out more of the repetitive tasks undertaken by humans and as a result, some occupations will decline or change – while others will grow.

In this same report, it’s suggested that there will still be enough work to go around (because technology will create new jobs and change others) – but the workforce must adapt to these changes and learn new skills. This workforce will need to learn to coexist with increasingly capable machines and what better way to do this than learning the languages that control said machines? Even if a chatbot or robot were to take over the admin or repetitive parts of a customer service role (freeing them up to do more uniquely human tasks), that technology still needs someone writing the code that feeds into it. Someone to tweak it and ensure continual improvement.

This future of technology doesn’t mean a death knell to the workforce – it simply emphasises the need to learn new skills and to consider where technology will play a role alongside your current skillset over the next 5, 10 or 15 years. Once you know how your role may change, you can learn the skills that will see you remain employable.

Why you should learn to code – even if it’s not your job

According to this study by PWC, 74% of workers are willing to learn new skills or completely retrain, in order to remain employable in the future. And, it stands to reason that learning the language of the future will make you employable. The thing is, these skills are useful regardless of your current role. Furthermore, in a study compiled for Oracle Academy over 7 million US job postings in 2015 were for roles that value coding skills. This skillset is clearly in demand with programming jobs growing 50% faster than the market overall.

While coding is a highly sought-after skill for businesses of all sizes – it’s also an incredibly useful life skill, particularly if you’re a freelancer or contractor. Not only will you be able to create your own website, you’ll be able to automate tasks that could otherwise cause a significant time drain. Things like data entry or responding to easy-to-answer questions from a customer can all be handed over to a piece of software – as long as it’s coded correctly. Even the most basic knowledge is useful. Why wait for a member of the technical team to get back to you, when you can make small tweaks and changes yourself, and move on to the next task quickly and efficiently?

As of 2019, it’s never been easier to learn to code. Once limited to those undertaking a three-year degree, coding is now available to all. There are loads of free resources online, but if you want to step it up to another level, businesses like Le Wagon can see you going from zero knowledge to being well equipped to take on multiple coding challenges in as little as three months.

The key take-home from this is simply, learn the language of coding. Whether you’re running a business or working for one, the key skills you’ll pick up by learning coding will set you up for the future. So next time you think about taking up a new language, immersing yourself in phrases and grammar, pick coding and find yourself communicating in the language of the world.