As you've probably heard, something new was introduced to the National Curriculum last year; coding lessons.

I saw this Mediatel article from last month; "The coding revolution and what it means for media". It makes the point that software is now integral to the media world1 — as its been put elsewhere, "software is eating the world", and the generation growing up now will – or at least, should – have a better understanding of it than any generation before;

This is a revolution that will be 10 years in the making but could change this country forever.

On one hand, I'm a little sceptical. I remember my own computer education at school involving learning about word processors, spreadsheets and databases – seeds of knowledge that I probably spent 20 years without ever calling upon, until I was in a working world where most people who have the need for a database immediately turn to a spreadsheet, while MS Access remains an unopened application on almost every desktop.

But I digress; it is an initiative I am totally behind. But the reason it will be "ten years in the making" is because this is a change in the national curriculum: kids will now be "learning to code" at school, and therefore (the logic follows), in the next ten years, we will see our new graduates wth an increasing understanding of "how to code".

Two points;

  1. If this is a good thing, why are we waiting 10 years to feel the impact?
  2. Who is going to make sure that the industry is keeping up with the education system?

Perhaps as an industry, we just haven't really thought about it yet. (Maybe it won't be until a few of us have found ourselves baffled by our kids' homework until the impact starts to sink in.) Perhaps we are hoping that, by the time this wave of truly computer-literate graduates joins the industry, that those of us thinking about this stuff now will have been promoted high enough that we won't be worrying about being outsmarted and outgunned by what they are able to do, safe in the knowledge that it won't help with boardroom discussions or high level negotiations.

If so, then that is a slightly worrying thought.

I wrote something at the beginning of the year about three levels of "using a computer". I worry that most people in the media industry see computers as digital paper. They might spend several hours each day using Excel, but they haven't taken the time to think about how to automate their most repetitive workflows.

I suspect that the real problem is that there are plenty of people who have absolutely no need to understand how to do that kind of thing. If you are in senior management, then you are probably (rightly) more interested in the software you can buy to simplify the problems that exist for everyone in your organisation or address key business challenges than you are in the training and learning that can help everyone address their own personal computing problems. (Not to mention the massive difference between what you need to know about software for 20th century processing of invoices and purchase orders, versus the 21st century world of programmatic, biddable, real-time media trading and so on.) Or maybe you are worrying about the process to go about quickly bringing those kinds of skills into your business; outsourcing software development to a trusted partner/supplier, acqui-hiring relevant businesses etc. Probably not hire a bunch of suitable people to fill roles that don't yet exist, reporting to people who don't understand their skills or work, recruited by people with no idea how to interview them.

But here is my point; if you are a manager, then its your job to teach the people who report to you how to do their jobs.

"Coding" wasn't a part of most people's jobs yesterday. But that doesn't mean that the ability to code isn't something that can make most people's jobs a easier, or more efficient, or more productive today, and that it won't be as much of a core skill as the ability to edit an Excel spreadsheet or Powerpoint presentation tomorrow.

Sure, a board-level manager probably doesn't need to spend time learning how to make themself more efficient in Excel. But I think they do need to set an example to the people they manage. I mean, I doubt that Barack Obama will spend any time reading through StackExchange trying to figure out how to squash his bugs – but he has made public his attempts to learn to code (and who knows, maybe he has spent some time learning a thing or two about data processing?)

But ultimately, I think we need to think about the image of 'coders'; both the view from the outside of wizards who make computers do magical things, and the view from the inside of nerds who would rather spend time staring at text on a computer screen, and spend hours making data rearrange itself in particular ways than spend time with other people. (Not that its necessarily true, but I think it can be an image that is easy to play up to.)

So… Last year, I resolved to be a better coder and learn more about how to use a computer. This year, I'm resolving to be a better teacher.

  1. By "media world", I mean the media/advertising world that I work in, as opposed to the broader media/journalism/entertainment world.