Entrepreneurs, Please Don’t Learn to Code

In startup land there is a tonne of emphasis on “tech” – tech startups, financial technology, app development etc, but is it time we jumped off the tech meme bandwagon?

For example ‘fintech’ is a phrase increasingly banded about in the media and in technology circles. Yet despite being in vogue, it’s a term many – including tech savvy and clued up entrepreneurs – don’t quite have a handle on.

It’s importance, however, cannot be denied. One thing it is certainly not, is a buzzword. Fintech is an area that is radically changing how we live as society and how we do business professionally.

What is fintech?

As a definition, Fintech is usually applied to the segment of the technology startup scene that is disrupting sectors such as mobile payments, money transfers, loans, fundraising and even asset management.

A report last year a report from Accenture found that global investment in fintech has skyrocketed from $930 million back in 2008 to over $12 billion by the beginning of 2015. Europe experienced the highest growth rate, with an increase of 215% to $1.48 billion in 2014.

With all this importance on tech should everyone be learning to code then? Well that’s an idea that’s been gaining ground in the tech community lately and particularly in the U.S: Everyone should learn to code. But here’s the problem with that idea: Coding is not the new literacy.

If you regularly pay attention to the cultural shenanigans of Silicon Valley, you’ve no doubt heard of the “Learn to Code” movement. Politicians, nonprofit organisations like Code.org and even former Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City have evangelized what they view as a necessary skill for tomorrow’s workforce.

NY City Mayor

There may be some truth to that, especially since the United States’ need for engineers shows no sign of slowing down.

But the picture is more complicated.

We live in an ultra-competitive world, with people turning to all sorts of methods to make ends meet. Selling coding as a ticket to economic salvation for the masses is dishonest.

Take coding bootcamps. Since the mainstream learned of the success of Silicon Valley software engineers, everyone wants to own a startup or become an engineer. HBO’s Silicon Valley paints a picture of late twenty-somethings spending their nights coding and smoking weed, all whilst making millions of dollars.

The American public is amazed by figures like Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg, who make millions seemingly overnight. Coding fever has even reached the steps of the White House, when President Obama pushed for legislation to include computer science in every public-school curriculum.

Inexplicably, it is not just bootcamps and politicians encouraging people to learn to code

Coding-Bootcamp

Individuals are actively encouraged to do so from all sides of society, from Hollywood to current tech luminaries. Despite this growing buzz, I view bootcamps with intense skepticism. While our culture tends to make Silicon Valley sexy, and glossy bootcamp brochures promise well-paying jobs, the truth is that many of these institutions are not accredited, do not post job statistics and do a poor job of ensuring their students’ post-bootcamp success. While many coding bootcamps are legitimate and care for their pupils, an even greater number are run by modern snake-oil salespeople tapping into the average American’s desperation.

The “everyone should learn to code” movement isn’t just wrong because it falsely equates coding with essential life skills like reading, writing, and math’s. I wish. It is wrong in so many other ways.

  • It assumes that more code in the world is an inherently desirable thing. I have found this … not to be the case. Should you learn to write code? No, I can’t get behind that. You should be learning to write as little code as possible. Ideally none.
  • It assumes that coding is the goal. Software developers tend to be software addicts who think their job is to write code. But it’s not. Their job is to solve problems. Don’t celebrate the creation of code, celebrate the creation of solutions. We have way too many coders addicted to doing just one more line of code already.
  • It puts the method before the problem. Before you go rushing out to learn to code,figure out what your problem actually is. Do you even have a problem? Can you explain it to others in a way they can understand? Have you researched the problem, and its possible solutions, deeply? Does coding solve that problem? Are you sure?
  • It assumes that adding naive, novice, not-even-sure-they-like-this-whole-programming-thing coders to the workforce is a net positive for the world. I guess that’s true if you consider that one bad programmer can easily create two new jobs a year. And for that matter, most people who already call themselves programmers can’t even code, so please pardon my skepticism of the sentiment that “everyone can learn to code”.
  • It implies that there’s a thin, easily permeable membrane between learning to program and getting paid to program professionally. Just look at these new programmers who got offered jobs at an average salary of $79k/year after attending a mere two and a half month bootcamp! Maybe you too can teach yourself Perl in 24 hours! While I love that programming is an egalitarian field where degrees and certifications are irrelevant in the face of experience, you still gotta put in your ten thousand hours like the rest of us.

I can support learning a bit about programming, just so you can recognise what code is, and when code might be an appropriate way to approach a problem you have. But I can also recognise other problems when I see them without any particular training in the area.

The general populace (and its political leadership) could probably benefit most of all from a basic understanding of how computers, and the Internet, work. Being able to get around on the Internet is becoming a basic life skill, and we should be worried about fixing that first and most of all, before we start jumping all the way into code.

Don’t learn to code, learn how to work with technology

learn to work with tech

If becoming a programmer is appealing to you, great. But seeking employment based on any one “hard skill” is an outdated way of thinking. The rapid evolution of technology forces us to constantly reconsider which hard skills are in demand. (And we should). Staying on top of the hard skills needed is a necessity in the short term, but one of the best ways to position yourself for success in the long term is to focus on the soft skills needed no matter what technology you are working with.

There is often this naive reaction a lot of people have, they say, now I need to take X number of years off, learn all the skills of computer programming and become a programmer. Very often that’s a bad way to go. It’s people who integrate technical skills with knowledge of a concrete area and who understand marketing, presentation, and persuasion.

In other words, whether you are an entrepreneur, launching a startup or an employee, if your job gets better with technology you’re in good shape. Think of the doctor that can use complicated computer-aided readouts to produce an accurate diagnosis, or the sales person that can sift through client data to work more efficiently.

Take Mark Zuckerberg who, of course, has been a great programmer. There is much more to Facebook than that. It’s appealing, it gets people to come back, and he was a psychology major. It’s that integration that’s important.

The smartest people will be able to leverage technology to their advantage and be able to recognize the big-picture ways to utilize it. The technology will change. The means of accessing will change. But strategically implementing it will remain in constant demand for tomorrow’s workforce.

Don’t advocate learning to code just for the sake of learning how to code

Or worse, because of the fat paychecks. Instead, I humbly suggest that we spend our time learning how to …

  • Research voraciously, and understand how the things around us work at a basic level.
  • Communicate effectively with other human beings.

These are skills that extend far beyond mere coding and will help you in every aspect of your life.

This is a curated article with, credit to Basel Farag’s article: http://techcrunch.com/2016/05/10/please-dont-learn-to-code/

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