To code or not to code: that is the question

The answer?  Depends on whom you ask.

There are some folks who say we are wasting educational time and money insisting that all children learn to code at an early age. It would be like teaching someone to drive a car by training them on a horse and buggy. We should be teaching students how technology works and how to imagine its potential applications. We should teach creativity and show children how to express themselves in digital logic – whatever that may be.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics would seem to bear out this position. According to the BLS, IT jobs will grow 12% over the next decade, except for programmers. That occupation will shrink. Programming jobs – in other words, coding – are expected to decline by 8% over the next decade.

But that’s not the whole story, say experts on the other side of the coding question, who argue that coding is necessary for many jobs, not just dedicated computer programming. Artists, designers, engineers, and scientists need to be able to write instructions to a computer as opposed to merely using established applications.

According to a new report from Burning Glass, a job market analytics firm, there were as many as 7 million job openings in 2015 in occupations that required coding skills. And programming jobs overall are growing faster than the market average. Jobs that require the ability to code in JavaScript, HTML, R and SAS, AutoCAD, Java, Python, and C++ are on the rise.

The Burning Glass study also revealed that half of all these jobs are outside of technology fields. Areas such as finance, health care, and manufacturing all need workers who can code. Furthermore, jobs that require coding skills pay an average of $22,000 more per year.

The bottom line, say coding advocates, is that coding has become a core skill that bolsters a candidate’s chances of successfully landing a good job.

Those of us who appreciate the beauty of a well constructed page of HTML and think JavaScript is a hoot and a half to write, must confess that we come down on the pro-coding side of the question. But then, we remember the ancient pre-Internet dark ages when the guy in the next cubicle thought you couldn’t really understand computers unless you coded in machine language. Hey, how can you understand a culture without understanding its language?