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The code to success

It is estimated that over the next 10 years, programming will be one of the fastest growing occupations with 67% of these jobs being outside of the tech sector.

Safeera Sarjoo
12th February 2016
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With such a boom, it’s never been more important to introduce the principles of coding to both children and adults. Jobs that once used traditional methods are entering a digital phase where a whole new skill set is crucial for success.

Richard Rolfe, a former head teacher, made a transformative difference to a challenging school before establishing National Coding Week. It was also during his time as a head teacher that he discovered he had cancer, but his thirst for educating others remained unmoved. ‘The first thing I thought was “I could stay here and have such a good time but I wonder what’s around the corner if I survive this?” I then made the decision to sell my house, quit my job, get well, meet interesting people and do interesting things,’ he said.

National Coding Week, which begins on Monday 21st September, looks to inspire people to step out of their comfort zone and learn a new and hugely relevant skill that has taken the digital sphere by storm. Richard was more than happy to speak to us about the opportunities and relevance coding has in the wider world and what we can expect from National Coding Week this year.


How did National Coding Week come to be?

During my journey as a head teacher, I bumped into a former student who was about 20 at the time and a web designer. He spoke to me about the business he had set up. After meeting with him two things struck me. One, I was really proud at what he had achieved and two I was slightly depressed because it just seemed like the younger generation had all these digital skills. After meeting with him I thought to myself, ‘Damn it, I’m going to try and teach myself some of these skills.’

That Christmas I taught myself coding online. If I can understand the principles of this then anyone can no matter what your age. I set up National Coding Week with the intention of inspiring adults to think about a career in digital and not think ‘oh this is just for young people.’ This year we had Boris Johnson give a fantastic quote about National Coding Week and we’ve got events all over the UK. Our mission is to get adults, whatever their age, 17 to 70, to open their eyes, gain confidence and get support.


Some digital and IT roles can be geared towards men. Would you say coding is gender-friendly?

I don’t think it’s tailored for men, we actually worked with an organisation called ‘Women who code’ last year who have events across the UK and the world. Coding and digital is the most equal profession in the whole world and I’ll tell you why I say that. Nobody cares about what colour your skin is, your gender, what time of day you work or which school you went to. What they care about is your passion for learning and whether you can deliver. Some coders work all night and sleep all day and deliver that product. Some sit on those inflatable balls at work and play ping pong half way through the day but they get their work done. There are more and more women getting involved because it’s actually very female friendly.


How important is coding within the digital sector?

It’s crucial. We trained a girl who was a textile graduate and a designer. She got the bug after two hours of face to face training and is now a web designer. She codes but her main focus is design. The coding enables her to talk to the coders, the full time professionals, in order to help them interpret her designs. An understanding of coding, whether you’re a business leader or in social media and marketing helps you to communicate with those people who develop full products.

I know this is a bit controversial, but I don't believe now, in 2015, that any business leader should have no knowledge of coding and should abdicate responsibility to other people. Once you start learning the language behind app design and app development, it opens a whole new world where you can make better business decisions.


Are there any surprising career routes that coding opens the door for?

There are. In fact I'll tell you a little story. My uncle started work at 14 and retired at 70 in the same job, at the same printing organisation, using the same raw materials. They used hot metal plates for printing and he retired before they went digital. We are essentially preparing people for jobs that in some cases don't yet exist. There are jobs that are emerging now like UX designers. User experience designers didn't really exist until a couple of years ago. There are new jobs sprouting up all the time and therefore having an understanding is so important.

It's a bit like learning grammar. A lot of people speak English and write in English but don't understand the rules of grammar. If you understand the rules of grammar you can progress to other areas. Similarly if you understand the basics of coding, a core element of how the internet works, then you'll understand the opportunities and threats that exist in the digital world. There are a lot of threats, but there are a massive number of opportunities.


Nowadays when people apply for jobs, there's a set of core skills they need to have such as a working knowledge of Microsoft Office and email. Do you think coding will be part of that skill set in the next five to ten years?

I've seen hundreds of CVs from people who have applied for jobs and it breaks my heart when they put things like ‘proficient use of Word'. Nobody puts ‘proficient use of biro and pencils' - I don't understand why people put that on their CV. In many respects, if you just put Word, then I'd wonder whether these people know how to use Whatsapp or Google Docs. Do they not know how to use project management systems like Basecamp? They're the kind of tools that the millennial and new workers need to understand - collaborative tools. If you put ‘a good understanding of coding' on your CV, I'd be really interested in that person. You want to stand out from the crowd.

What can we look forward to with National Coding Week?

This is year two of National Coding Week. We have a few focuses such as learning online. It's all free. Make the commitment. Get a bit of confidence and learn the skills or try professional organisations that offer face to face training. Invest in yourself and have a go. In terms of events, we have events in every single unitary authority in Wales and we're opening up libraries as mini tech-hubs. We'll be running events in Glasgow, Leeds, London, and Bristol and all over the UK to inspire people to have a go at getting involved. We had a 63 year old who was learning JavaScript and she's an intelligent lady who wanted to get into something better than Sudoku.

I use to have weekend sessions teaching my parents about YouTube. Now they're keen on learning about Photoshop and video-editing software, which is incredible to me.

That's fantastic. A lot of it is confidence. People think the older generation don't know much but actually, they're the generation who want things to do rather than sit at home doing nothing. It's a great opportunity to engage older people back into the workforce with different skills. They've already got experience, why not tap into that?


I think it's also really encouraging for young people to see their parents, who have come from a hardworking generation, persevere and learn skills that are so different from those they used years ago.

Absolutely. Unfortunately with young people - I experienced this as a school teacher and a head teacher - is many give up. It's quite hard for kids today and there's a lot of pressure on them. If they see older people learning new skills, it can inspire them to think if grandma or grandpa or Mum can do that, maybe I can have a go. It's great to see cross generational learning. We ran a parent-child course where we had a grandfather and grandson, a mum and son and a father and daughter building a retro computer game using code. It was marvellous seeing them chatting to each other about the strategy of the game and helping each other.


It's always a bonus if a skill brings people together. Finally, what advice would you give to someone who wants to learn coding but feels a bit overwhelmed by the idea of it?

My advice would be to pick up the phone, speak to somebody and have a go at a face to face course. Alternatively go online and try a coding course and if you get the bug go back for some face to face training. Make the decision to develop your confidence and skills. If I can learn it at 51 years old, then anybody can.


National Coding Week starts on Monday 21st September. If you've been inspired by Richard's story, check out our range of courses and discover the opportunities coding could open for you. 

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