Coding and the skills gap – “Hello, World!"

Coding – get with the program! 

This week I have been looking at coding – what is it, where can it be used and how can the UK keep pace with global coding skills?

Coding is what makes it possible for us to create computer software, e-commerce, apps and websites – everything from operating systems to Facebook. “Code” simply instructs computers to carry out tasks in a language they understand. Different computer languages are typically used for different purposes – for example, to build a website, we commonly use HTML or CSS. There is no universal programming language, they all offer something a little different, and there are hundreds of languages with new ones being created as needed. You can easily get started with code, whether you intend to use it in your career or simply to understand technology better. Every industry sector uses computing so there are endless opportunities for people with computing skills, hence the skills shortage everyone is talking about, and hence the need for governments to ensure the right skills are being developed in schools, colleges and businesses across the world.

In the UK’s recent Autumn Budget, the government announced a raft of initiatives designed to boost the country’s productivity and readiness for the next generation of tech jobs in Artificial Intelligence (“AI”), immersive technology, driverless cars, life sciences and FinTech. To ensure the skills are available, the Budget will ensure that every secondary school in the UK has a fully qualified computer science GCSE teacher, by committing £84m to upskill 8,000 computer science teachers by the end of the current Parliament. Concerns about UK school performance in Maths compared to other countries were highlighted by the OECD’s latest international school league table PISA report, surveyed every 3 years. Despite attempts to replicate the educational practices of East Asian countries, the UK's performance in Maths fell from 26th globally to 27th in the rankings with a decrease in average point score from 494 to 492. Furthermore, a change of focus in the GCSE technology curriculum from IT to more hardcore computer science may not yet have had the desired effect of attracting more students into coding. This is consistent with the business community identifying a skills shortage in digital technology - in this survey over 50% of employers highlighted a shortage of skilled employees, and nearly 25% described the difficulties finding talent as a “major challenge”.

What benefits are there to a career involving code? Put simply, coding skills place a worker in the best position to future-proof their career and prepare for the challenges of the changing workplace. Developers can work in permanent or flexible jobs, or freelance, and can specialise in one of the many tech-dependent sectors or generalise to keep as many employment routes open as possible. As software underpins every industry, from construction to animation, a knowledge of coding looks good on any cv.

Learning to code doesn’t need to be a chore – in fact, learning code can be one of the most entertaining learning experiences you can have. It is described in this entertaining clip by as “the closest thing we have to a superpower.” Learning is available in a variety of paid and free courses, short-term, in-depth, online and back to school. Given that we all now depend on code to bank, send emails, share photos, buy and sell online, and that cars driven by software are just around the corner, isn’t it time for us all to learn to speak code? Isn’t that how we arm ourselves against the perceived threat of AI?

What if you have already left school and you want to embrace the digital job opportunities – is there any way of catching up on the skills needed, and entering the digital workforce? Here are three excellent places to start:

Next week I am catching some winter sun – I’ll be back before Xmas and looking into some other skills that are going to be very much in demand for 2018.

Until then, per Java:

class HappyCodingApp {
    public static void main(String[] args) {
        System.out.println("Happy Coding!"); // Prints the string to the console.