National Coding Week - why 'the geeky image' of coding needs to go!

Brian Stokes, Managing Director of Welsh Tech company ITCS explains why stereotypes about coding are holding back vital progress in the tech industry

It’s fair to say that my company, like others in our sector, struggles to hire experienced coders – and when we find them, like the fantastic software developers we have now, they quickly become a valuable part of our workforce.

Of course, few companies have vacancies for those to learn coding from scratch, so a certain level of learning needs to take place before employment, whether self-taught or through formal education – that’s why National Coding Week is so important, for starting young people on their path. Even a Junior Developer role needs a certain level of coding skill but once the journey has started, developers continually learn and acquire more skills through experience at work.

Without professional coders, we’d face a low-tech life

From high-end web design, to troubleshooting and analysis, to software development, highly skilled coders are in big demand, because if the code crashes, so does the system – and in this day and age, there is a system for absolutely every part of our lives.

Earlier this year, Wales NHS found out what happens when the system crashes. A widespread system failure led to them being unable to access patient files. GPs were unable to access blood and X-Ray results. It also caused a backlog as patients could not be contacted to cancel appointments, and notes could not be typed up and saved on NHS systems. Without the IT systems we have become dependent on, healthcare almost goes back to the dark ages – it’s scary.

Why are the stereotypes surrounding software developers so disrespectful?

Coding skills provide an essential service to society, delivering everything from apps on our smartphones to the huge banking systems that allow us to transact. The bankers, accountants and professionals who use and market the systems are seen as high-flying city talent – figures that attract envy and admiration in equal measures.

However, the popular image of the coders who designed and facilitated the systems enabling these high flyers to operate remains that of a spectacled, male geek who sits in a corner eating junk food, playing weird music and having a slightly awkward disposition. It’s downright offensive, but more importantly, it sends out the wrong messages – that coding is not a ‘popular’ career option for high flyers, that developers are not ‘career professionals’ like lawyers and bankers, that women who code are an oddity and that if they enjoy coding they are not a ‘normal’ human being. It’s unfair, untrue and wholly inaccurate. As for high flyers? Bill Gates probably earns more.

Not ‘male and nerdy’, just people who code!

Our industry needs to attract more sharp minds, more high flyers, more women, more talent with the drive and ambition to succeed if we are even to continue at the rate we are. We have some great talent already, but they’ve come despite the prejudice – how much more talent could we attract without it? Let’s be honest, it’s not a choice, it’s a necessity, the demand for more developers just keeps growing and right now there aren’t anywhere near enough good coders out there.

People who code are not nerds, they aren’t geeks, they aren’t junk food addicts, they are just people who code – and they are hugely important to society. As a career, it can be fun, valuable and rewarding, as well as lucrative – what’s nerdy or negative about that? In schools, we prioritise learning Welsh, learning French, and are proud that our child can say hello in four languages – so why don’t we encourage pupils to learn a coding language? It’s likely to have relevance to far more lives, especially post-Brexit when much of the European talent will be heading home.

National coding week teaches kids to have fun with code

National Coding Week recognises this – and it’s great to see all the initiatives that are out there for youngsters. Young children are learning code – and they are enjoying it and having fun! We’re even seeing banks funding initiatives to get kids coding on the playground. We moan we want them off x-boxes and playing, but instead of just gaming, coding can channel all of that enthusiasm for tech into learning how it works and how to create websites, apps and software, learning through play.

That variety of fun will inspire young minds and build future careers – who wouldn’t want that for their child?

Let’s do our part to support National Coding Week by changing the negative perceptions that are unnecessarily driving away valuable talent from our industry.