Can A Three Month Course Teach You How To Code?

Organisations such as Codecademy, Makers Academy regularly get lauded for releasing on the tech. market legions of qualified engineers. See one of the latest with the Wall Street Journal article headlined, “Have Liberal Arts Degree, Will Code.” Student X took Course Y and in a mere three months became an amazing developer now working for startup earning a salary far above the national average. How can you not love that story?

Can this story actually be prettified? Let’s assume the best intention in this article please, I’m actually working with 2 great Makers that prove themselves everyday on complex client project at New Bamboo.

While these coding courses advertise a simple and straight forward way to become a web developer, I believe the transition is actually a lot more complicated.

Being a software engineer myself, I believe the reality: there is no three-month course (intensive or otherwise) that can magically turn someone into a top engineer. The first 6 months alone merely catch you up to your key competition for developer positions, the recent computer science grads, not to talk about the hundreds of qualified professionals looking for a new contract, permanent position or change of scene. Unfortunately these 6 months will be at the charge of your first employer, employer who will have to take the risk of positioning you on a client project, coaching you and probably trigger a development plan at some point.

By all mean I don’t imply that this is not the role of a web agency or a software development house. Everyone needs to take a part of risks. The “to be” fresh new-developer by investing a reasonable amount of time (12 weeks) often full time (so out of any other activities) and money (£8,000 as far as I read recently), but also the employer that can be requested to contribute to a recruitment fee if your favourite training academy makes an introduction.

I wonder if the journey usually goes a bit more like this: You make the decision to become a web developer, likely because you’re not passionate anymore (if you’ve been some day) about your current line of work, or / and think being a software engineer is cool (which is true: it’s cool). Next, you apply to a bunch of intensive, three-month web development classes, all of which promise to turn you into a marketable developer. In one of these course you will learn some of the basics of web development, from using Ruby on Rails to adding some extra functionality to a web-view with JavaScript. At the end of three months, you’ll have gone from knowing nothing to building a website, which is real accomplishment.

Before going further I want to recognise (I know again) the quality of these trainings, like I mention earlier two colleagues of mine are coming from this path and are now are really qualified respected web developers. Also it is my deep believe, that in the hyper-dynamic web product world we are living in, we need more flexible, adaptable academic solution that bring talent to the market. Our industry never stop learning, the environment we are engaging in “is in permanent state of change.”

But … from the moment your start working with us, you are no longer in a “sandbox” with a planned, lean, tailored academic program and teachers on hand. Your employer and particularly those with low capabilities (or availability) to coach and enable pair-coding, will expect you to know about the latest trends including, learning machines, iBeacons, behavioural testing, binary searches, hosting strategy, A/B testing etc. You could be really close to a different reality than the one advertised by your training company at the beginning of your journey.

I am proud to state that my company is part of a minority willing to hire driven and intelligent self-taught engineers. Unfortunately, many companies pass on candidate without formal academic study. Especially in our technical industry which praise technical study, then technical experiences, then technical culture and then technical network (networking is now the 2nd most demanded skill).

Taking the word of Michael Bloomberg interviewed by Tech City News in 2014 , “tech. is the industry that create the most job at the moment (5% increase forecasted year on year over the next decade in London), so to get these job people will need the skills required to get those job and these skills are tech. related.”

Let’s talk about positives now. The tech. industry is from my personal experience the most open, diverse and inclusive environment that can be. Most of the players are meritocracy driven, if you prove yourself they will pay attention to you. Also it’s a “culture oriented industry.” In London you will get as standard table tennis, arcade machine, desk beers on Friday (or all week if you fancy), blogging opportunities, hackdays, bike scheme, budget for conferences etc. If you are lucky to work for Google you will not even have to pay for a snack. Ever !!

Based on your company’s culture and needs, the benefits of hiring a self-taught developer could be worth your while. Making the shift requires determination, drive and initiative – all valuable transferable skills.

On the candidate side, being a new head in the team will position you straight away in the category of people who will have a valuable opinion on innovation. Another one, if you are experienced in another industry or another field of expertise: knowing what it’s like to not know the jargon, bridging the gap between an organisation’s technical and non-technical employees will be of great help to your employer.

But going from cold-emailing Android and iOS developers about mobile-advertising solutions to working on third party data integrations took far longer than the length of a single course.

The learn-to-code movement is aiming younger. MIT, for example, recently released a free iPad app with its visual programming language ScratchJr., so the youngest could use it to code stories and games even before knowing how to read using lovely little robot (I need to offer this to my daughter in few years).

MIT - ScratchJr

I think it’s a fantastic idea to make programming of interest to young children’s and hopefully reduce segregation with kids facing technology.

Read the story on Fast Company.

To close on our original topic, I wonder if the people who go to these courses could have imagined at the beginning of their coding academy that a few months down the line they would feel this confidently legitimate in their new profession?

So if the curiosity is there, it’s worth to start learning in your spare time. And if the curiosity stays and turns into passion, check these learning alternatives, ask yourself the hard questions: are you ready to make the investment: time, financial and risk? Most importantly, be prepared to work really, really hard.