Monday 13th September marks the beginning of this year’s National Coding Week. The week provides us with the perfect opportunity to reflect on the importance of digital skills and how coding can offer up a world of career opportunities for people from many different backgrounds. It’s never been more important; according to latest research from World Skills UK, 76% of businesses think that a lack of digital skills will damage their bottom lines, while 88% of young people understand that they will be essential for their careers.
We talked to some of the industry’s leading experts and asked them to share their thoughts:
The value of coding in today’s changing tech landscape
Coding is still a highly sought-after skill in the tech industry. According to Kara Sprague, EVP and GM of BIG-IP at F5, “the influence of coding continues to disrupt and transform all industries.”
And while new innovations will also impact how developers work in future, this will not diminish the importance of digital skills and ability to code. As Sean Farrington, EVP EMEA, Pluralsight comments, “despite the rise of low and no-code application development in recent years, coding skills remain critical for businesses…. Even legacy languages which may be deemed out of date by many are still useful to learn. Take COBOL, for example. The language is 50 years old and rarely taught to new software developers, but in reality, there are still billions of lines of COBOL code in use, and it underpins systems across many public sector and banking organisations.”
Additionally, James McLeod, VP EMEA at Faethm notes, “AI won’t ever become a direct replacement for coders – after all, we’ll still need programmers to write the very programmes that will then write code! That said, businesses should recognise where it can streamline their operations, and look to proactively transition coders and programmers into roles where human elements will be needed in the future, whether that’s to manage these models, or moderate the code they produce. Coding might be changing, but through targeted skills development there’ll still be plenty of opportunities for coders in future.”
Interestingly, the importance of digital skills goes beyond the most technical roles too. Andrea Nagel, Manager, Application Services at VMware Tanzu highlights, “While learning programming languages and being able to design, test and build new features are still very much core skills for software developers, there are many varied roles in tech these days that don’t require coding skills. However, gaining an exposure to coding, even at a basic or foundational level, is really useful for anyone working in software or product, even if you’re not directly coding yourself. For me, it has given me a greater understanding and empathy with the technical team members I work with.”
The importance of continuous learning for coders
For those who are just starting out, Matthew Strawbridge, Head of Automotive Engineering at Secondmind advises, “My tip would be to pick a simple problem that you’d like to solve using a computer, perhaps relating to one of your hobbies, and then learn as you go, trying to create a program to help you. Start with the simplest idea for a program that will be useful to you, and take it from there”.
There’s also a wealth of learning opportunities for more experienced coders. David Huntley, Technical Lead at Distributed, points out, “National Coding Week is a great opportunity to encourage people to learn developer skills for the first time. But given the pace of digital change and the number of coders still learning the discipline, it is also crucial to promote the benefits of upskilling professional developers of all experience levels.”
“A good place to start is learning alternative coding languages, which involves understanding new programming constructs and approaches and is essential for any mid- to senior-level developer. Without experience of more than one language, it is very difficult to know which is the right one to choose for each job.”
Similarly, Pluralsight’s Sean Farrington states “a bite-sized approach will allow coders to stay nimble to new trends and adapt to frequently changing languages. Having a platform in place that allows users to dip in when they need to learn a particular skill can help to complete tasks efficiently, without the overwhelming challenge of having to learn a whole new language from scratch.”
Addressing the talent shortage
The continued demand for digital skills reflects an ongoing talent shortage in the sector too. Ursula Morgenstern, President, Global Growth Markets at Cognizant, is an advocate for tackling this, commenting, “as businesses accelerate recruitment to drive growth in the wake of the pandemic, a war for talent has arisen, with skilled individuals highly sought after but with far too few qualified personnel to fill the vacancies. You need only Google ‘software engineer’ or ‘developer’ to see thousands of roles available and unfilled in the UK.
“This talent shortage will continue to create challenges for organisations, but also opportunities to think differently about how they manage, recruit and retain staff. Coding is the crucial baseline for many of these jobs, which should in theory broaden talent pools given its accessibility.”
Distributed’s David Huntley points to the rise in freelance developers who could be vital in filling this gap. “Alternatively, many developers are turning to freelance work to learn new skills, given the range of projects this working model gives them access to and the opportunity to work with other professionals in the space to cross-pollinate expertise. Another major advantage of this flexible approach to developer work is that individuals can more easily find projects that fit their current skillset, meaning they have access to well-paid work while learning on the job.”
Opening up digital skills for all
The industry talent gap also reflects a need to open up the industry to people from diverse backgrounds too.
Geoff Smith, CEO at emerging talent management consultancy Grayce comments, “Worryingly, figures show that just 26% of UK graduates with core STEM degrees are female. This has been a huge motivation for us to fund two women to enrol on Code Nation’s 12-week Coding Bootcamp this year in our bid to inspire more females to join the industry. It’s so important that we continue to improve diversity in tech, and encouraging more people to build on their skills sets and learn to code is a huge part of this – these individuals have limitless potential to add masses of value to the UK workforce.”
F5’s Kara Sprague also adds, “It is vital that everyone is given the opportunity to learn coding. To secure a more equitable future, we must nurture a diverse pipeline of talent that can build and excel within technology organisations. I am increasingly 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. Outside of formal curriculum requirements, there is also a lot of work taking place across the technology industry and non-profit sector to upskill young people, with a focus on under-represented groups.”
Cognizant’s Ursula Morgenstern concludes, “If underserved communities are provided with the right digital and coding training from businesses, their economic mobility and wider educational opportunities in turn could significantly increase. As such, this is where businesses should be looking to invest a large proportion of their recruiting budget – looking at the long game and recognising the need and opportunity to broaden and deepen the talent pool.”
Contributors: Kara Sprague, EVP and GM of BIG-IP at F5; Sean Farrington, EVP EMEA, Pluralsight; James McLeod, VP EMEA at Faethm; Andrea Nagel, Manager, Application Services at VMware Tanzu; Matthew Strawbridge, Head of Automotive Engineering at Secondmind; David Huntley, Technical Lead at Distributed; Ursula Morgenstern, President, Global Growth Markets at Cognizant; Geoff Smith, CEO at Grayce.