Coding. There’s a lot of recent press discussing why coding is the career skill people will need to possess in order to be competitive in both today’s job market and the job market of the near future. As an active technologist who learned to code while serving in a non-developer technology role, I can’t argue with this. Learning to code was and is one of the best decisions I’ve made in both my career and personal life. How else was I ever going to build diapersdiapers.com?!?
On the other hand, I’ve also been reading somewhat contrarian arguments discussing how coding as a job is going the way of the skilled textile worker. Being able to code at a basic level is quickly becoming table stakes as more and more people are exposed to coding education earlier and earlier in life. And again, I can’t argue with this view. Regardless, there is little doubt in my mind that coding is an incredibly valuable skill, but not necessary for the reason of being able to write code. A little secret I’ll share about coding, it’s not writing code that’s valuable. It’s the thought process behind writing eloquent and scalable code that makes learning to code such a valuable skill.
Being Able To Write Code Is Not An Instant Path To Financial Wealth.
Let’s get this out of the way before anything else. I hinted to it earlier, but to be crystal clear – coding is already being commoditized. Do any research on learning to code and it will be very clear that the availability of code schools, online learning, and the growth of code classes at traditional schools has made it much easier to access coding education. And this is great. I say this as I consider Codeacademy – an online school of sorts to be one of the many resources I recommend and use myself to sharpen my code skills.
What isn’t so great with this? A lot of people get the impression that once they finish a 3 month coding school or an online class, the money will flow in and life will be perfect. That’s dead wrong. In my career history of technology, even the best graduates of something like the Flatiron School – one of the premier schools here in NYC – are very raw in terms of their coding skills. What sets these guys apart (and why I adore so many of them) is their graduates are super smart, driven, and ripe for growth. In fact – many are career changers who were successful at things other than coding in a prior life. Most of the grads I know fit this model. Technically I fit this model. They understand code is just another tool and it takes practice, tenacity, and a deep love of learning to make that wonderful tool sing.
It’s also worth noting that the reality is there will continue to be a massive shift in jobs that need people who can code – but the vast majority of the need will be in standardized work where the amount of original thought will be less and less. Welcome to automation folks. Think about the situation this way – in the beginning of photography having the skill and resources to take a photo was rare, in demand, and as a result very valuable. But today, both the technology and skill to take basic photos isn’t exactly hard to come by. It’s simple supply and demand for standardized services.
But Fear Not. Being Able To Code Opens Doors.
The best developer I know (a co-founder of Bounce Exchange) once told me, ‘anyone can write code. It’s the logic behind the code that’s important.’ It turns out he is right. Writing code is fairly simple and generally the least challenging part of developing technology. But writing scalable, eloquent, mature code that solves a well defined problem (and monetizes the solution) in as little code as necessary – that’s very hard. It’s something that is only gained by writing and frequently re-writing a ton of really bad (well hopefully improving) code. For example, for my first real coding project at Bounce Exchange, I re-wrote my code multiple times before I published it – improving it (and frequently reducing it) after each often brutal code review. And when I look at it now – I have a deep desire to re-write it again due to what I’ve learned in the two years it’s been since I (we – it was team effort) published it.
Now days, I rarely write a line of code at work at HealthCare.com. But the skills and the way of thinking I learned by writing and re-writing code – it has payed dividends. In fact, I have little doubt I would be in the role I’m currently in if I didn’t have a pretty strong coding background founded in understanding how to approach complex problems via using as little code as necessary.
The Thought Processes And Disciple Coding Instills Are The Real Value.
Writing code changes how a person thinks. It really does. Plus having the disciple to struggle and learn how to write good code – it’s value in terms of one’s career – I will argue it’s some of the best education you can gift yourself. For that reason – adding coding to your skillset? Do it. Even if you never make a single cent writing code, it’s a clear sign to any smart hiring manager that a candidate has both a massive amount of discipline and very deep love of learning. Those people get hired and thrive. For those reasons, I’ll leave you with this advise: learn to code. You will not regret it.