Cracking the code

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As you may have seen over the past six months, there has been a YouTube video sweeping the web starring some big names such as Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and Will.I.Am , all of whom are preaching the importance of teaching computer coding to children in schools. The message is loud and clear: computer coding is the future, so teach the children how to do it now.

Clearly our world now revolves around computers, so the argument that learning to read and write code will come in useful at some point in life holds a lot of strength. However, the main selling point that the campaigners are attaching to this argument is that being able to code on a computer is a unique talent akin to “having a superpower,” as one of the superheroes states. At the moment, it probably is. The working conditions that firms such as Google and Facebook establish for these specialist groups of coders are unbelievable. The chilled-out environment where employees get free food and can slide from office to office is a massively appealing prospect for anyone. As the situation stands, many of these coders are like superheroes.

But just wait a minute. If everyone is taught to code, it will no longer be the sought after specialist skill that it is today. Even if millions of jobs are created in this sector and the same amount of people are trained for these roles, where does this leave the campaigner’s claim that one of the main reasons to get into coding is that it is like having a new “superpower”?

Of course, I can see the logic in the argument that more children need to be taught how to code. The world is rapidly becoming more and more digital every day, so it makes sense that more people need to be technologically trained in order to work in these sectors. Teaching it in schools seems to be the perfect answer.

However, what is misleading is how the coding profession is presented. So much emphasis is put on the Facebook and Google experiences where staff work in ideal environments and make large amounts of money. I’m sure most people who see their set up would love to work there. What seems to have been overlooked, however, is that this presentation of the coding industry as an exclusive and lucrative profession doesn’t align so neatly with the campaign to get coding taught in schools.

The only reason this industry has all these benefits at the moment is because so few people actually have the skills to be able to code. They are, therefore, in high demand and these firms will do everything they can to attract them. Yet what nationwide teaching of the subject from an early age would do is make the skill of coding an everyday one, much like reading and writing. Coders would no longer be sought after on the level that they are now and the perks of being in the industry that are being so heavily attached to the campaign would become pretty much non-existent.

If we take the profession of law as an example: the reason that lawyers earn so much money is because it takes many years to gain the skills required to fulfil the job role and only a few people have these skills. If, for instance, all children were trained to become qualified law practitioners throughout their school lives, lawyers would no longer be able to demand so much money for their services, as pretty much anyone could do their job. This is the danger that the coding sector faces. It’s all very well and good teaching children to code so they can learn to be these elusive computer coders who slide down a fireman’s pole straight from breakfast to their office chair, but the reality is the more people there are who can do a job, the lower the rewards will be for them when they do it. So yes, Mr Zuckerberg, get your government to do something that will benefit the future of your countries workforce. Yes, Mr Gates, make sure people know how useful a skill computer coding is in our digital age. But please don’t try to mislead us all. You know as well as I do that the coding profession won’t be all beanbag office chairs and barbecue lunches forever. The kid who thinks he is going to be the next Clark Kent with his newly discovered “superpower” probably won’t be stopping trains, but designing the website for National Rail instead.

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