Is coding the blue collar job of the future?

Chris Monk of Decoded says anyone who is smart and keen can learn to code.

Chris Monk of Decoded says anyone who is smart and keen can learn to code.

Programming is the next big blue collar job category.

We need to start thinking about coding not as a "high-stakes, sexy affair", but the equivalent of skilled factory work, according to blogger and technology journalist Clive Thompson in a recent Wired article.

He gets a resounding "yes" from experts.

"There will be the equivalence of blue collar jobs in the digital economy, and coding will be one of them," says Professor Marek Kowalkiewicz, PwC chair in digital economy at the Queensland University of Technology.

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Self-taught coder Aaron Tyler, 32, is already set in what promises to be a solid, middle-class job for a lifetime.

After school he moved to Sydney from the Central Coast and got a job in data entry for the Sydney City Council. But he wanted something more creative so after years of "tinkering around" learning code online at home he landed a job with Konica Minolta Business Solutions Australia.

He now works as a front-end developer in a team of 12, building websites for corporate clients. He says the pay is great compared to other people his age "considering that I haven't got any qualifications".

He relishes the continuous on-the-job learning, creativity, problem solving and working as part of a team.

Programming will always have its superstars – the ones who "craft wild new algorithms for flash trading or neural networks", as Thompson puts it.

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Those people might need 10 or 12 years of study and experience before they can perform at the high end of the coding spectrum, says Kowalkiewicz. But most people working in coding won't need to be nearly that qualified.

CODIES WILL BE THE ENGINE ROOM

Just as sparkies and plumbers and other tradies have been the engine room of the industrial economy, codies will be the engine room of the digital economy says Andrew Johnson, chief executive of the Australian Computer Society, the professional association for the ICT sector.

They'll be writing code in JavaScript for their local bank, or maintaining a website for a retail business. They'll be financial advisers managing algorithms that make financial decisions on their behalf, or shop floor workers wrangling delivery robots.

"There's a conception out there that coding is only for mathematically gifted people and it's a highly complex field," says Raman Nambiar, managing director of the Coder Factory Academy. "It can be, but a growing number of positions are much more mainstream."

He uses a building industry analogy: it needs architects and engineers and designers but also a lot of builders and tradesmen.

Software, too, needs its architects, engineers, developers and designers, but "an awful lot of coders do things like quality checking and just building very basic code".

"It can be learned fairly quickly, just like a vocational skill," says Nambiar.

"We're starting to see a lot of career changers. We have had train drivers, people from the construction trade and from other fields like psychology and finance." And the age profile of students is "a little bit older than we first expected", averaging in the mid-30s, he adds.

Alex Karolis did the six-month course last year. He started off in the army and then did a PhD in philosophy. Now he spends his days writing software to build and maintain a sophisticated data management tool for Event Hub, a cloud computing software platform that manages premium seating and corporate hospitality activities for companies, venues and event owners.

"I love it, absolutely love it. In hindsight it was a very good decision," he says. He loves that coding is "very transparent. You can see exactly what you produce, there is no subjectivity, you know whether what you do is good or bad because it either does the job or it doesn't."

He also loves the "passion and goodwill" in the industry, in which he says people are keen to help each other get a start and keep learning.

'THERE IS NO MAGIC' TO CODING

Anyone who is smart and keen can code, says Chris Monk, head of Asia-Pacific for Decoded, a coding school that offers "light touch" introductory courses for non-technical professionals. "There is no magic," he says.

Often students show up at Decoded's "Code in a Day" course saying their brain doesn't work that way but end the day amazed that they've built an app, Monk says. A day won't give you the skills to get a coding job, but it's enough to convey a basic idea of how coding works, he says.

Some of the best developers he knows are self-taught says Monk. "They wanted to build things from an early age then gradually formalised their education by self-directed learning, and end up in a workplace learning from colleagues," he says.

Kowalkiewicz distinguishes between coding as a job and coding as a skill. When everyday work. both white or blue collar, involves communicating via algorithms and with robots, "it's a way of thinking that is required in the new economy," he says.

"Computers don't do complex things, they just do simple things really, really fast," says Monk. Coding teaches you to break down a challenge into simple steps with the simple logic of "if this, then that".

 - Sydney Morning Herald

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