Saturday, May 11, 2013

Go Program, Young Man and Woman!

I don't know if this bit of grad-season advice will go viral in the way last year's speech at Wellesley High did (You're Not Special!) but it ought to.

Kirk McDonald argued in the WSJ yesterday that people looking to get hired in ANYTHING related to media, technology, or related fields should learn just enough programming to be dangerous.  

He's not saying everyone should go out and try to become a NASA-level programmer...and he realizes that's not an achievable goal.  But he is saying that everyone should at least have a sense of how the software development process works, what it generally means to *code* something, etc.  Even if you are looking for a separate role, the knowledge of how that back-end stuff works is invaluable.  

We frequently hear about how many twenty- and thirty-somethings (and maybe everything-somethings) are unemployed or underemployed.  But there are also thousands of jobs going unfilled because of the skills gap.  Some of the biggest money in Silicon Valley is going into political lobbying to support comprehensive immigration reform because we lack the home-grown talent to get the work done.  

No one can claim that the knowledge is inaccessible or too expensive to attain.  Look at OpenCourseWare.  Look at Coursera.  Udacity.  Stanford Engineering Everywhere (SEE).  Khan Academy.  EdX.  Not a single one of those platforms charges its users a single dime.  

I mentioned this to the guy sitting next to me in a "Business of Software" class yesterday, and he concurred.  He even added, "MBAs aren't that special.  This applies to us, too."  He and I are both taking programming MOOCs this summer.

Just to re-emphasize the point, this really matters.  Quoting Dr. Seuss' "Oh the Places You'll Go" is wonderful, and quoting the Wellesley High speech is even more wonderful.  But neither is specific enough to be able to extrapolate real, practical lessons from.  

The advice in that op-ed, though, is a different story.  Learn some Python.  Learn some Java.  Play around with APIs.  Get better...gradually.  Kai-zen, my friend.

Put it on your resume, get those words on your LinkedIn profile, and suddenly become more employable than all the self-described "gadget freaks" and "ideas guys" who can't install networks or write a line of code.  

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