Here's why learning to code gives you an edge at work

Photo: Jamie Squire/Getty Images.

As driverless cars, artificial intelligence and the Internet of things begin to take over the world, there’s increasing talk that coding — not Mandarin — will be the language of the future.

And while software has already put millions of people out of work and created new jobs, chances are, you’ll be left doing things robots can’t or won’t do if you don’t know the basics of coding.

Even veterans in the cloud computing world have realised the potential of programming.

Earlier this year, Salesforce senior vice president Leyla Seka told Business Insider that not learning to write code was the “biggest mistake of my life”.

“It’s how you talk to the computer and I would just love to be able to do that. To actually be able to code I think I would be even better at my job,” she said.

But that’s not to say that everyone should become a computer scientist or software engineer. In fact, most people who take up coding do so because they have an idea in mind to improve or simplify workplace processes, says Pete Argent co-founder of Coder Factory in Sydney.

“It’s actually when you bring experience, knowledge and skill from some other part of life and bring coding to it that it becomes really powerful,” says Argent.

So whether you’re in education, finance, construction or the arts, here’s how coding will give you an edge.

Critical and innovative thinking

These days, executives are searching high and low for ways to improve revenue and reduce costs. Having an understanding of how coding and technology can empower different divisions in the business forces you to be more critical of current processes and develop innovate measures to streamline workplace efficiency. In other words, how can we be more productive and effective?

“We had an accountant who would prepare reports for clients by pulling out data from multiple systems, putting it into a spreadsheet and manipulating numbers to create a report. He was saying ‘surely there is better way to do this’ and after understanding how to create software, he began to see that there were quicker and better avenues for the project he wanted to build,” Argent says.

Encourage creativity

In recent years, practitioners have hailed coding as an artform saying it borrows more from creative processes than scientific. The idea hinges on the fact that coders are “makers” and that programming is largely a mode of expression. Like art, coding pushes you to experiment with new ideas until you begin to see the elegant structures behind programs, animations and presentations.

“Coding is creative not in the artistic sense but in the sense that you’re creating something that didn’t exist before — you’re starting with just some tools and creating an application that people could use to help the workplace or society,” Argent says.

Problem solving

Taking up coding allows for computational thinking, which is how software engineers tackle problems. Being exposed to a language foregrounded on logic, algorithms and mathematics forces you to approach larger problems by breaking them down into smaller, more manageable problems.

“You never build software just for the sake of it. You have to think of a problem you want to solve and whether other people care enough about that problem to use your software. Then, you also have to find the best way to solve it,” Argent says.

“There’s no point building an application that does a million things and takes two years then realising no one needs it. You have to decide on what the most important feature is and be prepared to change your mind depending on what people want.”

Deeper appreciation for technology

As part of the innovation economy, having an understanding of how everyday technologies work including smartphones and apps pushes you to see the world in a different way. Not only will coding reveal how software is built, but it makes you appreciate how quickly things are built, why they were built and how the founders could see opportunity that others couldn’t.

“Taking up coding can give you a totally new view of the world. Once you start understanding what’s possible [with coding] you understand how technology you’re using everyday works. You understand when you load up Facebook, what’s actually happening underneath,” Argent says.

Ability to speak technically

Understanding rudimentary code — as simple as HTML, or as complex as C++ — can go a long way when talking to developers. Taking up coding allows you to decipher complex algorithms and give you the vocabulary to talk about the nuts and bolts of structures and tropes.

“Even if executives have an idea, they can only explain it to a development team in terms of their understanding and what they know now. Not only will you be able to pick up the technical jargon, but coders will also be able to describe what they want to build and run through the architectural and design processes with confidence,” Argent says.

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