Coding. It’s the new buzzword in the world of education and training. With it, some experts say, you will be ready to take your place in the workforce of tomorrow. Everything is seemingly either a computer or is driven by one, and if you are not up with the play, your future looks bleak.
On the other hand, just as many experts will tell you that you don’t need to know how a car actually works in order to get places, you just need to know how to drive it.
So, do you need to learn how to write code – originally known as computer programming – to be employable or employed when you leave school? The answer is yes, and no.
There is a growing range of jobs that are easier to get into (and easier to progress in) if you know the language of computers and how they do what they do. You can still aim for these without knowing how to code of course, but you may need to learn it along the way.
Some of the most recognisable jobs where coding is useful are:
- Information Technology: programmers write software which can be used to create websites, build computer networks, develop healthcare solutions or, soon, to drive a car or truck.
- Data Analysis: creating programmes to analyse data and find solutions to problems in business and finance.
- Engineering: programmers design and test new solutions and products and figure out how to solve practical technology problems.
- Science: programming can help analyse results of experiments, simulate real life events or problems and help design new medical devices
- Design: software programmes can design almost anything, from images to products, and make them with 3D printing.
Getting in early – teaching coding from school’s start
Some governments around the world, including New Zealand soon, are keen to have coding taught in schools from the very start. England and Estonia are teaching coding from around 6 or 7 years of age, and private businesses around the world are creating a whole new and valuable industry based around coding.
The IT industry in New Zealand believes the government and schools need to teach coding in schools to prepare students for the future and to ensure organisations like theirs have a skilled workforce coming along. Schools however need support for equipment and the training of teachers before digital technologies can be a subject all students can do and enjoy, so it won’t happen instantly.
It’s the thinking, not the doing that’s important
Another argument you are likely to hear is that it is not coding that you will need for the future, it’s the thinking that goes behind coding. The buzzword for this is ‘computational thinking’. This is the thinking that helps identify what the computer programme being coded is actually all about.
It’s like a cooking recipe. You sort out what you need for the dish, then assemble it stage by stage, each step following on from the previous one. If you do it right, the dish comes out as hoped for. Computers work on a similar progression, each step being the result of the one before it. The step by step guide making this happen is what is called an algorithm. The important part is not the actual mechanical pathway, but it’s working out what is needed, what the problem is that needs solving, and then arranging the information or actions to reach the answer or goal.
This thinking is the true skill of training with code and computer programming. It is thinking that is based on what is called logic (test your logical thinking here). Here’s the good part. You can get started on coding and programming online, just about everywhere, in your own time and at no cost. Plenty of institutions also offer free computer skills classes as part of their foundation or bridging courses.
If it’s for you, you can learn enough about coding to get you started quite quickly. If it’s not your go, understanding digital technologies and thinking - even a little - will certainly help you in an increasingly machine driven world outside of school.