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Should I learn to code?

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A good five decades into the buzz surrounding personal and professional computers, it seems like these machines are here to stay. With Britain finally teaching programming to schoolchildren, will today’s non-coding students be at a severe disadvantage?

The evidence

A gulf already exists between the average salaries of software developers and the population as a whole. The median annual wage for an adult in the UK reached £27,017 in 2014, with roles listed online for a developer with two to five years of experience coming in at around £47,500.

In London, the difference is even more pronounced: £35,000 overall, and £57,500 for an advertised job as a software developer. With automation of tasks becoming ever more prevalent and mechanical workers predicted by Oxford University academics to take over 35 percent of current jobs by 2035, being a digital babe is only going to be more lucrative as the 21st century advances.

Not just for careers

Chasing a career in coding shouldn’t be the only reason to learn. Given the presence of automated scripts in scientific, digital and analytical roles, many of these roles are awarded more often to candidates with a background in coding, even if only the specific area concerning that field. University mathematicians, for example, will know of the mathematical language MATLAB; research in psychology, physics and chemistry have such a statistical nature that an ability to code a short program to handle all the boring high-end calculations is almost always the best way.

Learning to code is a very different discipline. Computers rely on very plain instructions and have no agency of their own – even when they seem as mischievous as a wet gremlin after a midnight snack, they’re still obedient slaves to the code they’re running. Learning to code to any level is therefore a great indicator of an ability to analyse problems, diagnose them and ultimately solve them.

Programming can also give a better understanding of computers in general, which can be helpful when they error or throw one of their habitual tantrums. Virtually no jobs feature zero interaction with a computer, and many 9-to-5s – heads-up, 9-to-6 is the standard in London – comprise north of four hours of ‘screen’-time. Understanding a little of the imperious incantations which govern software goes a long way in being able to diagnose a machine’s latest strop.

How to learn

Learning might also be easier than you think. For the absolute beginner, there are a myriad of tutorials online for all major programming languages.

While it’s not a programming language, a great place to start is with HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) which web browsers read to render web pages. Its core concepts are simple to grasp and learning to manipulate a web browser steadies the learning curve into programming. HTMLDog is a particular favourite for learning HTML, W3Schools provides a more technical and comprehensive guide.

The next steps

The next logical step is usually to play with JavaScript, which allows for dynamic content on web pages, like pop-up chats and search-while-you-type features. The advantage of learning HTML and JavaScript first is that they’ve the shortest path both to seeing results and reaching a useful level of proficiency.

The step into the fray of object-oriented languages – C# and Java, for example (the latter confusingly has absolutely no link to JavaScript) – is a lengthy stride to be sure; to understand functional languages can be rather more of a leap.

Don’t let the depths of the abyss scare you off. A little bit of know-how with scripting in a language like Python can speed up a whole host of mindless tasks, or perhaps you’re a bit like me and reckon it’s cool just knowing how to write a short script to retweet 150 tweets from Taylor Swift at once from a friend’s unattended machine – I did this once: no regrets.

The advantages are virtually limitless, and the tools to get started are already at your fingertips.

Do you think everyone should learn to code? Tell us if you did below.

Photo: Ruiwen Chua / Flickr

Robin James KerrisonShould I learn to code?

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  • Career Camel - November 9, 2015 reply

    Fantastic article Robin, could not agree more.

    For anyone interested, teaching yourself is 100% possible and opens up so many doors. As well as working for an employer, the knowledge to build websites and more certainly has its advantages if you are thinking of going down the entrepreneurial route.

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