Why Programming Is The Core Skill Of The 21st Century

In the 20th Century, meaningful education was all about learning your ABCs. Today, it's centered on Alphas, Betas and C++.

Programming skills are becoming ever more important, quickly turning into the core competency for all kinds of 21st Century workers. That inescapable fact is leading individuals to seek out new ways of learning to code, startups and non-profits to find ways to help them and businesses to search for innovative approaches to finding the coders they so desperately need.

When daily deal site Living Social couldn't find the coding help it needed, for example, the company took matters into its own hands and successfully created its own qualified programmers. Through an experiment called Hungry Academy,  Living Social paid 24 people to learn computer programming within five months. All two dozen passed the class and became full-time developers at Living Social following their graduation. 

“We believe that intelligence and passion are far harder to hire for and much more important than a specific technical skill,” Chad Fowler, LivingSocial’s senior vice president of technology, told the Washington Post last year. “We have enough of the kind of DIY sort of mentality here and, maybe it’s a little bit of hubris, we can teach faster than the industry.”

Likely due to Living Social’s larger troubles, the company won’t be repeating the experiment. However the concept it nurtured - teaching untechnical people technical skills - is gaining in popularity in a wide variety of ways. Learn-to-code programs bent on teaching anyone, even children, programming skills are on the upswing, at non-profits, at startups and at companies that need to hire programmers.

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Plenty Of Ways To Learn Programming

Mark Lassoff, founder of Learntoprogram.tv, believes it’s not the place you learn to code that counts. It’s the portfolio you can show potential employers.

“People think you have to go back to school to learn programming and other computer skills, but you don’t,” he said in a statement. “There’s also the myth that you have to be some kind of math or science genius to learn it. Not true. You just need to learn the process, and then practice it. You can build a portfolio by doing volunteer work for a church or charity.”

Ordinarily, newly minted developers would be less desirable than experienced ones for employers. But the current developer drought means there are far more jobs that require programming skills than people who have those skills.  So companies are more accepting of programming newbies.

Lots Of Coding Jobs Going Begging

(See also Don't Look Now, But We Might Be In A Developer Drought.)

The number of coding jobs is only expected to increase over time. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 913,000 computer programmer jobs in 2010. That number is expected to jump 30% from 2010 to 2020. Meanwhile, the average growth of all other U.S. jobs is predicted to be just 14%

“There aren’t enough people to fill these jobs because technology and the job market are moving much faster than education in high schools and colleges,” Lassoff said. 

How Coding Can Boost Everyone's Career

Developer and mentor Joe O’Brien believes that computer skills are essential even if you’ve already got a non-technical job. 

“We all interact with computers in such a way that they’re no longer this extra thing you do on the side,” O'Brien told ReadWrite. “Computing is a vital part of what everybody does nowadays.

"Not that we want everyone to go out and create Web programs and write the next Twitter, but I think having a base understanding of what happens behind the curtain can be huge,” he added.

O’Brien never graduated from college, but he did recently sell Edgecase, the software development company he founded and operated himself. He thinks that his programming skills made him a better CEO than he would have been without them. Today, he mentors aspiring programmers in his hometown of Columbus, Ohio. 

“Even if a CEO never codes for her company, just understanding what is happening is going to be huge for her from a risk standpoint, from an understanding standpoint,” he said. “CEOs need to have a lot of knowledge of a lot of different things and programming is a large part of that.”

Teaching Programming Is Big Business

CEOs who think like O’Brien might be the reason that learn-to-code startups have been able to fundraise millions in venture capital. Investors seem to realize that companies like Treehouse and Codecademy don’t just train the next generation of developers, but that the skill they teach are essential for managers, too. 

(See also There's A Boom In Teaching People How To Code.)

Whether to boost your career or just to keep pace with the rest of the world, learning to code has never been more important or more accessible. If you haven’t started yet, what’s stopping you?

Second image courtesy of Team Round of APPlause. Final image courtesy of Girls Who Code.