‘Coders are today’s rockstars’—and we need more of them

In the talent industry we have a term for those roles that are nigh on impossible to fill: “The Underwater Basket Weaver”. I’m sure that if there was demand for underwater basket weavers, they’d exist in spades. But the reality is that demand for skills is the driver for education.

When I’m asked for a “coder” of any description I hold my head in my hands and wish for a sudden end. At the Marketing Association’s Digital Day Out back in May, Nigel Parker, Microsoft NZ platform evangelist, drew the crowd’s attention to a clip from code.org eloquently titled ‘What Most Schools Don’t Teach’. 

It features a veritable who’s who of the digital age … Bill Gates (Microsoft), Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), Jack Dorsey (Twitter), Drew Houston (founder of Dropbox), Will.i.am, and the list goes on.

My first thought was how the hell did they get any of Bill Gates’ time? Let alone Zuckerberg and co’s. And why is Will.i.am talking about coders?

The answer is simple: there are just not enough coders (or, as our American cousins call them, engineers) being educated, so they rolled out the big guns to draw attention to the issue. Virtually every aspect of our lives is impacted by the technology of the digital age yet “one million of the best jobs in America may go unfilled because only one in ten schools teach students how to code”.

And it is safe to say that if America has too few coders, we are in a far worse predicament given the simple economies of scale principal.

A few days after the Digital Day Out, a story broke here in New Zealand about the number of positions Weta Digital had asked Immigration New Zealand for approval to outsource: 526 in total. Apparently there were not enough skilled people in New Zealand to fulfil the need. The Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment Steven Joyce responded saying “the number of people training in visual imaging, computer graphic design and animation was up from 1,100 nine years ago to 4,000 last year”. 

Which is all well and good, but where is the breakdown of what skillsets were being taught and how many of these people remained in New Zealand after qualifying? A lot has changed in the way the population consumes digital resources. I somehow doubt that tripling the number of trainees is going to quell the fire of demand? A quick check over at the NZ Immigration’s Essential Skills Shortage Lists confirms this.

The time to change the curriculum is now, starting from as young as primary aged children. To quote Ashton Kutcher: “I’d like to advocate for computer coding to be an institution in the public school systems right next to biology, chemistry, physics, etc.” (and there a few contentious areas our kids here in New Zealand spend their valuable time on that I’d seriously question the investment in). 

We need to focus on the skills our children will need for the inevitable digital future that awaits them.

There are some great options when it comes to studying at tertiary level. The question begs though, is it too little too late? According to Sir Richard Branson: “Whether we’re fighting climate change or going to space, everything is moved forward by computers, and we don’t have enough people who can code. Teaching young people to code early on can help build skills and confidence and energise the classroom with learning-by-doing opportunities. I learned how to fly a hot air balloon when I was 30,000 feet up and my life was in the balance: you can learn skills at any age but why wait when we can teach everyone to code now!“

Gone are the days where kids aspire to be firemen. As Will.i.am puts it: “Great coders are today’s rockstars. That’s it.”

  • Clinton Ulyatt is creative and digital talent agent at Font

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