Last updated August 29, 2017 at 10:26 am
Carl Williams reports on the must-have skill for the future.
We are living through a digital revolution, as mind-blowing as any revolution the planet has ever experienced. It’s driving a global transformation that already affects almost every aspect of our lives, from transport and banking to personal fitness and health. And it’s only set to spread and grow.
So what’s powering this revolution? The answer is simple. Coding.
The software behind every computer, website, smartphone, tablet, virtual reality and gaming tech relies on code. Think of it like a language used as a way of communicating by all the electronic devices we use. So it’s not surprising that understanding what it is and how to use it opens up all sorts of possibilities.
There’s no question that the ability to code is set to become one of the most in-demand workplace skills. And that goes for pretty much every industry – from finance and marketing, to manufacturing and health care.
So, if you’re still at school or just starting out at uni or TAFE you might not necessarily be planning a career in coding but there are a lot of good reasons why it would be worth your while gaining expertise in this critical area. Sure, learning to code will equip you with essential expertise for the exciting new jobs of the future. But, more importantly, learning to code and understanding how it works also teaches critical thinking and problem-solving, and that’s valuable for any job.
Massive Growth Area
The main industry that needs people with coding skills is ICT. According to Australia’s Digital Pulse – a joint report released last year by Deloitte Access Economics and the Australian Computer Society – about 600,000 people worked in ICT in 2014 in Australia and there’s demand for a further 100,000 by 2020.
And yet, the number of graduates with ICT qualifications has declined significantly since the early 2000s. You don’t have to be Einstein to work out that increasing demand and falling graduate numbers equals HUGE OPPORTUNITIES for anyone now looking to get into this area! Learning to code in school and at uni and TAFE provides the skills to create and design the technology of the future. But it will also help narrow the gap between the growing number of technology jobs that already exist and the people qualified to fill them.
Developing knowledge and skills in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics – the STEM subjects – while in high school, and understanding specialist areas like database management, cyber security and information technology, are essential for a career in coding and computer science.
Leon Sterling is a retired Swinburne University of Technology professor who still teaches ICT at Swinburne as well as software engineering at the University of Melbourne. He agrees that learning coding is the most effective way of developing computational and problem-solving skills and will be particularly important for the jobs of the future.
“Automation will create new and more exciting jobs, but we will need people with the skills and knowledge to understand how automation works and to use computers more effectively,” Prof Sterling explains.
ICT stands for information and communication technologies. It’s an industry that covers the internet, wireless networks, smartphones, computers and all the associated hardware and software. And its prime purpose, of course, is to allow us to access information and communicate with each other. ICT has helped create the ‘global village’, where people all over the world can communicate in real-time through technologies such as instant messaging and videoconferencing and keep in regular contact through social networking websites like Facebook.
Taking the ICT Path
Studying a computer science degree is often the first step to a career in ICT, and coding is an integral part of most ICT bachelor degrees, such as software engineering, computer science, information technology and computer engineering. Business analytics and cyber security, for example, are two growth areas Prof Sterling notes will require qualified ICT professionals with coding skills. “We’re collecting so much data, we need people who can understand and interpret it, and someone who has those skills will do extremely well,” he says.
So what’s the take-home message here? Computer and coding skills help with solving problems in a huge range of fields, from accountancy to zoology. And with technology rapidly changing the global economy, nobody knows exactly what the careers of the future will be. But what we do know is that coding will be one of the most important and desirable skills. So make sure you’re well-equipped in this area when you step out into the workforce.
Unleashing Your Inner Entrepreneur
Taj Pabari admits he wasn’t exactly a model student during his early school years. But he loved ICT and was fascinated by people like Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Microsoft’s Bill Gates. Taj began a technology blog for children at the age of 11. And about two years later, in 2014, he founded the company Fiftysix, which sells build-it-yourself tablet and coding kits for kids.
“Fiftysix is what we like to call Lego for the 21st Century,” Taj says, explaining that building tablets from the ground up helps kids understand what makes them work. So far the company has reached 43,000 children and Taj, who only last year finished high school, has a goal of a reaching a million by 2020.For every tablet purchased the company also provides a free kit for a disadvantaged child from an underprivileged community in Australia, India, Nepal, Indonesia or East Africa.
“A lot of kids tell me they don’t want to be a computer programmer, but that’s not what I’m advocating,” Taj says. “A broad understanding of not only coding and programming, but building technology and knowing about hardware and software, are skills that are very important now and increasingly so for the jobs of the future.”
Images courtesy of Taj Pabari
E-Training Australian Healthcare
Adelaide-based software development company ETRAIN Interactive is using video game technology to help nurses improve their skills. And they’re doing it with ground-breaking simulated training in 3D.
Coders are at the heart of what the company does and Mathew Balic, ETRAIN Interactive’s Managing Director, says he’s looking for coders who can see the “bigger picture”.
“Even if their coding skills aren’t as good as someone who’s straight out of university, I’d always take someone who’s got skills and abilities in designing games or user-interfaces over someone who’s just a coder,” Mathew explains.
He employs a range of different programmers who work collaboratively with all parts of the company. “We want our programmers to fully understand the end-user experience, even if they’re focusing on lines of code,” he says. “I really want them to have an appreciation of the end product.”
Mathew adds that although formal qualifications are definitely handy for securing a job, he doesn’t consider them essential. “Having a relevant degree is certainly beneficial – it shows you can apply yourself and demonstrates critical thinking and problem-solving,” he says. “But if someone had two or three years industry experience that would be just as good for me.”
Image courtesy of ETRAIN
Get coding girls
When Ally Watson realised the world of coding was missing out on a lot of creative female talent she decided to do something about it. Now girls are getting the chance to explore their potential in this male-dominated area through Code Like a Girl codelikeagirl.com.au, an online network founded by Ally to run code and tech events for girls and give them the skills they need to step into leadership roles in the ICT industry.
“Our aim is to help women flourish in the world of coding, and to spark change in the tech community,” explains Ally. Code Like a Girl is supported by Melbourne-based digital agency Deepend, where Ally is a Net Developer working on cutting-edge web and mobile applications.
“The industry is fast-paced and always changing, so there’s lots of room to grow as a developer,” she says. “It’s very exciting to have the opportunity to combine my love of technology with my creative passion, and I’m very fortunate to work with some incredible bosses and tech directors.”
Ally’s path to a career in coding began after high school, when she enrolled for a computer science degree at the University of Glasgow, in Scotland.
“I wasn’t exposed to the tech industry as a teenager, so had little to no experience of programming,“ she says. “But after failing to get into art school, I considered becoming a programmer. It was kind of a happy accident.”
Surrounded by boys who already had programming skills, a lack of confidence in her coding meant she initially struggled, but her determination and courage paid off. “I look back now and I’m so proud that I never gave up,” Ally says, “because it has led me to an amazing career I truly love.”
Image (top) courtesy of Vanessa King, image (bottom) courtesy of Melbourne Magazine
Don’t wait till you get to uni or TAFE to start coding. Explore what it’s about – and maybe even start coding – with the help of these websites.
- Codecademy – codecademy.com
- Google CS First – cs-first.com/en/home
- code.org – code.org
- FreeCodeCamp – freecodecamp.com
- Khan Academy – khanacademy.org/hourofcode
- edX – edx.org/course/subject/computer-science
- Coursera – coursera.org
- Udacity – udacity.com
- Udemy – udemy.com
- Digital Careers – digitalcareers.edu.au
Carl Williams is a Sydney-based freelance science writer and photographer. He has degrees in physics and chemistry. He’s published articles on subjects ranging from Aboriginal astronomy to quantum computing.
Originally published in Ultimate Careers magazine. Read the magazine and find your Ultimate Careers here.