Like any heretic anticipating the arrival of the lynch-mob at the gates of Versari, let me start with the disclaimers: I think the global drive for the introduction of coding as a core curriculum pillar in any education system is a good thing: I sat by in genuine wonder as my daughter created a web page at her very first Coder Dojo (created here in Ireland by the extraordinary James Whelton). In January, I looked enviously across the Irish Sea at our friends in the UK as Theresa May announced £20m of funding for the Institute of Coding https://www.computerweekly.com/news/252433844/Theresa-May-announces-boost-to-UK-programming. And some years ago, I marvelled at the celebrity A-list that lined up behind President Obama when launching the Hour of Code initiative in the United States. This is like world peace & a cure for global hunger – who wouldn’t be excited?
So what’s the problem? I worry that this global bandwagon risks getting a little out of control. The hysterical rush to elevate Coding education as some sort of silver bullet solution to deep-rooted global economic & educational problems runs the risk of leaving other – arguably larger – skills issues going unresolved.
Put simply, coding – in and of itself – isn’t enough. From a purely entrepreneurial perspective, one could argue that there is no shortage of coders or code. The problem is that a lot of it is pretty useless. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t work or the coders were unskilled. It means that it doesn’t actually do anything, solve any problem or address any inefficiencies. Perhaps the problem we have is a shortage of useful code.
This actually talks to a whole different range of skills that existing educational infrastructure equally struggles to produce. These are softer skills – including creativity, perception, analysis and problem solving. Alongside the army of coders that this new global revolution will produce over the next decades, it is imperative that we also provide them with colleagues who will ensure that what they build will actually add any value.
So what about sales skills? So often disregarded as not especially important, sales can be a dirty word in the technology domain: ‘Our product sells itself’ after all, doesn’t it? The bad news is that it just doesn’t: The best coders producing the best code still require the skills alongside them to monetize their produce in a way that makes their endeavour sustainable.
And this isn’t a bad thing. I’m not talking about Alec Baldwin characters from the film Glengarry Glen Ross. To succeed, the 21st century salesperson must possess a skillset that is complex, nuanced and sophisticated. This is about literacy, precise & articulate communication, relationships & empathy, process management, focus – and a whole lot more. These are non-trivial skills and we all should realise that our graduates – and especially our school leavers – generally don’t have them.
This isn’t about Coding being good or bad: it’s about balance & perspective. My worry is that the Coding revolution brings with it an implication that other skills required by economies & employers across the globe are being adequately produced by a Jurassic educational system. They simply are not. And it will take more than an App to fix that.