National Coding Week 2020: Tech experts weigh in on the importance of digital skills


Recent research indicates the UK tech sector has grown nearly six times as fast as the UK economy over the past decade, suggesting digital skills have never been more important. This National Coding Week (14th – 20th of September), we wanted to explore the value of coding in today’s connected world.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         

We asked some of the industry’s leading experts to share their thoughts :


The importance of coding cannot be emphasised enough

Kara Sprague, Executive Vice President and General Manager, BIG-IP at F5, notes that: “The influence of coding continues to disrupt and transform all industries. For example, look at what businesses like Uber and Lyft have done in the transportation space. Or what Airbnb has done in the hospitality sector. Or Amazon in retail. Technology wields an enormous influence these days, bringing disruption and profound change. That’s why it’s so important for young people to not only gain an appreciation for that impact, but also build a capability to participate in it.”

Robbie Clutton, Senior Director, VMware Pivotal Labs adds: “It seems like software and coding has been on the front pages of the press more this year than ever before, showing that being able to code has never been more important. Whether it’s Covid-19 tracing applications, algorithms for determining exam results, or the increase in digital businesses such as online grocery shopping. Combined with the “new normal” of remote working, the use not just of coding, but digital tooling, is becoming foundational to the way we conduct business today.”

Sean Farrington, SVP of EMEA for Pluralsight argues that we’re ready to take the next leap forward: “Technology is pervasive and we are now in the midst of a coding revolution. As we take our relationship with technology to the next level, businesses stand to reap the benefits – but only if they invest in their team’s technology skill development. Developing digital skills is an ongoing process, and the skills developed at school, university, or past jobs need upgrading to meet the demands of the modern organisation. Development frameworks evolve and skills have to be kept fresh. Pushing a culture of learning in the realm of coding now will undoubtedly cement some certainty for the future.”


Ensuring a steady pipeline of talent

Kara Sprague highlights how we’re seeing progress in teaching people coding from a young age: “From a big picture awareness-raising and enablement perspective, I am encouraged by how some countries have adopted requirements in their core curriculums for kids to learn coding. This bodes well for their technology sectors and job-creation abilities moving forward. For the future, it’s vital that the big focus is on building and nurturing a diverse pipeline of talent that can build and excel within technology organisations. Coding and technology are now so important to the global economy – and life in general – that everyone should have an opportunity to participate.”

Steve Thorn, Executive Director, Digital, Civica talks about why coding offers a great career option: “Coders are highly valuable in the workplace and the talent pool is still relatively small. It’ll be an attractive job opportunity for graduates and apprentices entering a difficult job market and open to a diverse range of people across genders, race and neuro-diversity. Coding is also a great opportunity for current employees looking to upskill into a future career.”


To meet the needs of a diverse society, coding must step up its game

Sheree Atcheson, Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Peakon comments on the importance of women in coding: “It’s time to actively challenge the biases and developer stereotypes. Coding and technology are integrated into everything that we do – including how we shop for groceries, consume content and get treated for illnesses. If we don’t have a diverse group of people behind the solutions that we all use, then we won’t be able to create solutions that meet the needs of everyone in our diverse society. We need more women in coding – and we need to create a culture that helps them to stay and succeed. Appreciate, listen and actively promote them – equal opportunities and equal pay are the only way forward.”

Jonathan Crane, Chief Commercial Officer, IPsoft believes businesses need to recognise the value of individuals from non-STEM backgrounds in the industry too. “It’s important to showcase the broader range of skills that are needed across the technology sector to build algorithms, architect IT systems and code software. The traditional line of thought is that you primarily need STEM skills to break into this industry. No doubt those skills will always be valuable, but as AI becomes more conversational, coders will need to have a good overview of language and linguistics to be able to train it to understand user intent. And it’s a bonus if you can speak another language, as companies continue to expand their solutions around the world.”


Some advice to pave the way forward

Steve Thorn comments: “As well as a passion for IT and coding, the future coder must be a great listener, able to challenge people, have an enquiring mind and be proactive. They’ll also need discretion when dealing with potentially sensitive data and have excellent attention to detail to spot anomalies in data patterns. These characteristics can’t necessarily be taught at school or university. Companies are increasingly looking at what candidates are like as a person, not just what’s on a piece of paper.”

According to Robbie Clutton, when you break it down, coding depends on being logical and open-minded. “When I was starting out my career in software development, I would describe my role as a ‘professional problem solver’. It’s really about codifying repeatable processes. Coding is applied maths and physics. Depending on the domain, it could also be biology, art or many other subject areas. For my kids, I’m starting with logic puzzles, and coding mouse bots, but I hope that as they progress in school, I’ll see them progress to Scratch and then to programming languages.”

Moreover, Jonathan Crane points out that having an artistic background can be a huge asset, particularly when we look at where technology is going: “Some of the best people in software development and some of the best coders are also musicians. Writing and studying music, as well as being able to play an instrument, requires great discipline and an understanding of how chords and notes go together – these composition skills are very important in areas like DevOps.

“Having an understanding of psychology and emotional intelligence are also vital; being able to analyse and respond accordingly to human emotions is key to coding sophisticated AI programmes that will interact with people in a natural and human-like way. All the more important as we continue to embrace a hybrid model of working with automation, AI and even robotics.”

Kara Sprague adds: “For those looking to get involved in coding, I recommend starting simple and there are many free resources and offerings online. My main advice to those interested in learning to code is to stick with it. As with most competencies, coding is something that comes to you over time – there’s no group of people that just can’t get it. What you put into it is what you will get out of it.”