his National Coding Week, we spoke to a range of experts and business leaders on the coding diversity gap and what needs to be done to fill it. National Coding Week is a volunteer-led initiative that has been hosting events in schools, business, libraries and hubs since 2014.
The aim is to improve people’s confidence and digital skills. Our economy is changing and there is a looming skill shortage, estimated to be as high as one million key technical workers. The UK Digital Strategy makes clear;
Many jobs have a digital element, and it is predicted that within 20 years 90% of all jobs will require some element of digital skills. Effective digital skills provision is essential to ensure the workforce is prepared for this and future technological changes.
The 4th literacy
The crux of it is that we need coders. Digital has become the 4th literacy alongside reading, writing and arithmetic. Technology has become ubiquitous and touches almost every aspect of life, so there is a need for us to have coders to create the stuff we’re consuming and using. If we look at tech employees in the Uk, 17% of them are female but we have a shortfall of about a million coders. It’s crazy that the need is there and so many women, so many BAME people, so many different types of people are missing from that pool. If you’re going to plug the gap, you need to plug the gap with people and if there’s a group that’s already over-represented then you need to make sure you go and engage with other groups to fill out the numbers. Being able to be digitally literate is becoming just as important as being able to read or write. Diversity matters in coding because it’s all about solving problems and if you’re going to solve problems correctly for a big group of people you need different perspectives on those problems and how to solve them. You also need people that think slightly differently so you can come up with solutions that are innovative and things that work for the biggest group of people. Finally, coding skill doesn’t reside exclusively on the Y chromosome, so you’re not doing a great job of filling those gaps and getting the benefits from diverse perspectives if you only have predominantly one type of person using those skills. Coding ability and race, coding ability and gender are not correlated.
Coding diversity gap
Research shows that there will be a shortfall of around one million developers by 2020 – the industry is crying out for fresh talent. Despite the vacancies, however, some 13% of computer science students are still unemployed six months after graduating. At Makers, we believe that broadening inclusion can solve the digital skills gap. We’re on a mission to find tomorrow’s tech talent and opening our Fellowship to anyone who is interested in a career in tech. We believe that talent is everywhere, but opportunity isn’t, so we are aiming to level the playing field by sponsoring students from different backgrounds to do the course. We also offer a women’s discount – we need more women training as software developers if we are to remain competitive in a post-Brexit world. Diversity can’t be an afterthought in a digital economy, and it is never too late to learn to code and consider a career switch.
The open source way
Digital skills now cross the boundaries of industries and roles. A potential coder’s passion might start with their interest in fashion, or cars, or travel. Many pupils participating in the Open Schools Coding Competition had not considered themselves potential coders, but through participating they experienced the power of combining a passion in a charity’s cause with coding skills to produce a creative new app. Crucially, they also learnt the value of teamwork by working in an ‘open source’ way, using freely available software and collaborating closely toward a common goal. The principles of sharing ideas in the open and building on them collectively can be applied across disciplines and age groups, and bring together diverse expertise and individuals to creatively solve real-world problems. This will help attract people with diverse interests and outlooks into STEM subjects. Open source makes the tools, content and community support to develop coding skills more accessible than ever, helping new coders cross the boundaries of industry and experience.
Schools, Computers Science and STEM
To sustain the competitiveness of the technology sector and to ensure it’s driving forward the UK economy, we need to bring in a wide array of people from different backgrounds and with distinct ways of thinking. The problem often starts early on, with, for example, a shortage of girls enrolling in STEM subjects at A Level despite achieving top grades in science and math at GCSE. National Coding Week, therefore, provides a fantastic opportunity to push forward the diversity agenda. Developing technical skills, whether that’s studying computer science or learning new coding languages, can open the door to all kinds of careers, from design to technology marketing to managing a business division. Yet too often there’s a flawed perception that some groups, such as women, don’t belong in STEM professions. This has contributed to the enduring shortage of technically skilled people who can embrace new technology and figure out where it can help solve the most difficult problems in business, the economy, and society as a whole. As we fast progress towards a ‘digital first’ nation we need to ensure we are investing in both girls and boys at the very beginning of the digital journey and developing the right skills to support the future digital economy. National Coding Week is a great way to raise awareness, but we as a country, whether it’s policymakers or private organisations, must make consistent efforts to create the talent pool of the future.
Digital skills crisis
It’s National Coding Week this week. The awareness drive – which is volunteer-led – aims to help build people’s confidence around coding, as well as other important digital skills. The reason? We’re in the middle of a growing digital skills crisis. One solution to the crisis may be quite simple: get more women into STEM. Currently, women make up just 23% of STEM occupations in the UK, and therefore closing the diversity gap in these fields will naturally help to close the wider digital skills gap. The reasons for such a stark diversity divide are complex. We’ve come a long way towards increased awareness for gender equality in the workplace in recent years, but today women are still paid less than men, represented in fewer board positions, and hold fewer leadership positions in companies. Through better education and encouragement of both genders, we can chip away at antiquated attitudes and create a more equal workplace.
As businesses become ever more reliant on programmers and developers with specialist skills, we need initiatives such as National Coding Week to encourage young people and adults into careers in technology. Also, with uncertainty surrounding Brexit and the available pool of skilled workers, the need to nurture home-grown talent is becoming even more of a necessity. But that’s just the start of the process and organisations with an interest in coding need to make a deeper commitment to the development of the overall talent pool. Initiatives such as codebar, for example, aim to increase coding learning and development opportunities across a more diverse range of people, and businesses should embrace the opportunities this offers to build their own teams, skill sets and expertise.
There’s no right way
This National Coding Week, we need to encourage more people and especially kids to get into coding – and that means showing that it’s cool to code. It is cool to code because of the creativity involved. With coding, there are many ways to solve the same problem. It allows you to be creative and individual, while still being technical. One of the best bits for is that there isn’t a “right way” of doing things – it’s always open to interpretation to find your own solution to the problem. At Puppet, we know that being able to code can open doors for people. That’s why we participate in initiatives aiming to teach coding to groups such as military veterans, disadvantaged youth and girls. It’s all part of our drive to grow and support opportunities for underrepresented groups in STEM careers.