Should you learn to code?

With the rise of low code application development services, is becoming a programmer still the steady job path it used to be?

This article originally appeared in Issue 8 of IT Pro 20/20, available here. To sign up to receive each new issue in your inbox, click here.

Digital products and services dominate the modern world and they are all underpinned by code. Over the past few years, there has been a clear drive to expand how computer programming is taught and make becoming a coder an attractive career choice. 

Organisations need developers, but also staff that have awareness – and basic skills – in the underlying code that drives much of their business. Understanding basic HTML to fix a web page or JavaScript for more advanced web-based applications is often on job descriptions.

Technical skills have always been in high demand, but there’s a growing interest in this area as millions of furloughed and recently redundant workers in the UK seek to build their knowledge and bolster their CVs in an uncertain job market.

When it comes to what people should be choosing to train in, coding should be high up the agenda. According to research from specialist recruitment and assessment firm SHL, of the 10 the most in-demand skills in LinkedIn job adverts, the top seven are programming languages.

“Our analysis found that ... coding skills are paid extremely well,” the company said in a blog post. “PL/SQL is the skill rewarded by the highest average salary (£70,797). Jobs that demand knowledge of the popular cloud-based design program Figma also offer an impressive average salary of £59,439.”

At first sight, then, all looks rosey when it comes to learning to code and potentially making the leap to life as a coder. But life is rarely that simple and the rise of low-code/no-code for application development was calling into question the need for more specialised developer skills long before the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic.

A dying art?

In a post-COVID-19 trading environment, all businesses need to be agile. Application development must be completed at speed, and the digital transformation roadmaps many enterprises have been following are now being radically altered to support this new urgency. And when it comes to rapid change and development, it’s low-code and no-code strategies that have been leading the way.

Philip White, managing director at Audacia – a Leeds and London-based software development company – explains: “No-code platforms not only empower employees to learn a new skill and take control of their workplace outputs through innovation, they also prove to be beneficial in increasing company security and productivity while lowering company costs. As awareness increases, no-code and low-code platforms are becoming a popular trend in the wider digital transformation movement.”

So, the question now is, if you are looking to reskill or expand your existing skill set, is it still worth learning to code?

The answer, it seems, is yes.

As Carl Austin, CTO at tech and business consultancy BJSS, explains: “Low code and no code don't mean the end of code, there is plenty of room for all approaches. These systems themselves are, of course, underpinned by code. Even assuming mass adoption, while they target deskilling the creation of commodity software applications, there will still be much need to create new and interesting software that resides outside of the capability of these services.”

Additionally, as Sean Farrington, SVP for EMEA at Pluralsight, says, the field of coding is much broader than before.

“Just two decades ago, developers only needed to be skilled in a handful of coding languages.” Farrington explains. “Now, there are over 250 languages, and they change multiple times a year. Keeping up with this is challenging and, trying to learn every language would be impossible.”

With so much choice available, it's critical to pick the right languages to study. In line with SHL’s research, Austin advises: “Python and JavaScript are the clear winners here for me. These are still in the ascendancy, with a large surface area in which to put them to use. Python is the defacto choice for data engineering and data science too, which is a fast-growing field, and the most interesting one.”

Coding, like any skill, must be placed into context. There is little doubt that technical knowledge and skills will continue to be in great demand. However,

James Milligan, global head of technology at recruitment firm Hays, believes we should all be given a choice when choosing the skills we acquire or the training we embark on to ensure we are fully engaged.

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“Learning to code gives vital understanding and context to the applications which we use on a daily basis,as well as helping us ensure that there is a consistent pipeline of coding talent,” says Milligan.

There is little doubt that even a basic understanding of how code is constructed, and an appreciation of how many of the systems businesses rely upon use code every day, will be an advantage in a jobs market that is about to become even more competitive.

While zero-code and no-code can help open the door to becoming a coder – and help organisations create applications at speed – traditional programming languages will always form the fabric that underpins our digital lives.

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