Democratising coding to drive growth

Coding is the 21st century literacy. From Elon Musk to Andrus Ansip, everyone is urging kids to learn to code.

A European Commission report says that Europe is currently short of some 500,000 ICT jobs in development, analysis and management, a number that is set to nearly double by 2020. At the same time, unemployment is still on the rise. There is clearly an e-skills gap in the European employment market. Coding has become a key issue in growth and jobs, but from a policy perspective there is still little understanding and appreciation of coding and its potential.

So what is coding? Simply put, it’s another word for programming. And programming is done using languages – such as HTML, C++, PHP, Java, Python, Ruby etc. It’s not rocket science. It’s not about higher maths and complex numbers. It’s about learning and developing (in) a different language, to build software, websites, mobile applications, program hardware and analyse data.

The disruptive technologies of the digital revolution are transforming our world as citizens but also our industrial sectors: changing healthcare through apps, wearables and interconnected patient files; improving energy efficiency with home-heating data servers and smart thermostats. Software is transforming every aspect of our lives, and is changing radically how we do business.

That is why we cannot just depend on kids learning code. It is important that we all, across all sectors, take an active interest in coding and learn at least the basics. The digitisation of society has drawn a line between the people who can and those who can’t, and spreading greater digital literacy will become a key component of citizen empowerment. A lot more also needs to be done in educating policymakers on the importance of the democratisation of coding. Policymakers understanding properly how code governs new technologies would be of real benefit when it comes to drafting better regulation, not just in terms of data protection, privacy, piracy and cybersecurity, but also for specific sectors targeted for growth and jobs.

Entrepreneurs are engines of new ideas. If more people had basic coding skills and were able to execute their ideas quickly and cheaply, this trend would become even stronger, driving innovation, growth and jobs. Coding would then become a tool for everyone. Just as learning English doesn’t mean you’re going to necessarily become an English-language teacher, learning coding would provide everyone with an additional core business (and lifestyle) tool, but doesn’t mean that we will become a world of nerdy developers. Instead, we’d become a world of micro-entrepreneurs. Coding empowers.

Charlotte Norlund-Matthiessen is a researcher in FTI Consulting Brussels’ ICT practice.

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