This week is National Coding Week, an annual event that aims to encourage more people to learn to code in an effort to fill the current skills gap.
The widening of the digital skills gap in the UK has been much reported. The tech industry’s struggle to fill job vacancies could cost the UK economy £141 billion in GDP growth, according to Accenture.
Given that just 2% of the global population knows how to code, and considering the demand for software developers is set to grow by 24% over the next few years, according to software company Pegasystems, this would suggest that efforts to introduce a greater proportion of the population to coding are much needed.
However, for David Wells, vice president and managing director, EMEA at Pegasystems, tackling the coding skills gap will require a different approach. Although equipping more students with STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) skills is by no means a bad thing, he believes that a focus purely on teaching a greater number of people to code may not be the answer:
“National Coding Week suggests one of the answers is to teach more people to code to bridge the gap. But, let’s be honest; there aren’t enough teachers, courses, course programmes globally to teach enough people fast enough to keep up with the demand.
“Like the guy who drove an over-height truck that got stuck in a tunnel, we need to let the air out of the over-inflated ideas around coding education to drive forward.”
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According to a survey conducted by YouGov on behalf of IT and business consultancy firm BJSS, two thirds of teachers surveyed believed that they could not effectively teach coding to eight-to-15-year-olds. This suggests that ensuring educators are equipped with the right tools is a vital first step.
Wells believes that a focus on other skills, such as problem solving and creative thinking, as well as coding would be more effective:
“Ask yourselves what are the desired skills we need? Is it really teaching people to code in a myriad of languages and syntaxes or is it something else? The answer is innovation in computing has always depended on people with great problem solving, logic and creative powers.”
With the growing presence of artificial intelligence, a focus on soft skills such as these is more important than ever and will only become more important in the workplace of the future.
The growth of low-code technology, which enables developers with little coding experience to develop apps, along with artificial intelligence, has led some to ask whether coding could in fact be a redundant skill in the future. Wells believes that shifting the focus away from coding “could bring about the next wave of technological change”:
“Think about what could be done if we spent just some of that effort coding software into something that empowers creative thinkers with tools to streamline the time between generating an idea and translating it to an application. Low-code technology makes this possible. Advances in AI make this approach even more powerful.
“Software development is about crafting logic. It takes an outcome and reverse-engineers software into logical steps. Right now, this is done by people who are specially trained in translating logic into a computing language.
“As we know not everyone can do this, but most can learn to draw a picture of a process or tell a story in a logical manner about what they are trying to achieve and what they need to do to get there.
“This visual approach to capturing and translating logic is the next wave of technological change the country needs to advance to address the digital skills and innovation shortages. And when AI is integrated into low-code technology, software can write itself.”