Why The World Needs More Techies

Michael Bloomberg, major of New York and billionaire founder of Bloomberg, recently declared that he is going to learn to code, inspired by the Code Year campaign from Codecademy.

But over the last eight years at Priocept since we were first established, we haven’t really seen any closing of the gulf between the “techies” who will happily respond “yeah that’s easy, I can have that done in no time”, and everyone else who declares “sorry I’m not a techie – I don’t know how it works but it looks complicated”.

And as much as we hate the word “techie”, we also don’t have anyone at Priocept who isn’t one. If you were heard saying “sorry I’m not a techie” at Priocept then in all likelihood you wouldn’t last very long here. Because every facet of what we do relates to the application of technology and the jobs that need doing at Priocept (including project management, client management, contract negotiation and other “non-technical” roles) need, in reality, solid technical understanding to be done really well. Of course, our clients are allowed to say “I’m not a techie” but they are paying us!

Technology (and information technology/electronics/software in particular) has become such a integral part of the way everyone works, communicates and manages their lives, that we don’t believe people can get away with not being techies for much longer. Michael Bloomberg is obviously smart enough to work this out and he probably isn’t learning how to code just to prove a point, he is doing it because it interests him, he sees a benefit and feels it is an important skill set to learn.

Going back one or two hundred years we had “literate” and “illiterate” people. Its pretty rare today (although not as rare as it should be) for people to say “sorry I can’t read that, I’m illiterate”, and it is probably going to take less than a generation before people most stop saying “sorry I’m rubbish with technology”.

What’s even more interesting about this divide between techies and non-techies is that the younger generation (teenagers and younger) have no fear of technology, no fear of “breaking” a computer by experimenting with it, and therefore a highly accelerated learning curve. We have young people struggling to find employment or build careers in their chosen profession and yet we have people a generation ahead of them that are often unproductive in their job due to their poor technology skills.

Discover Your Inner Techie

Now, we’re not suggesting that everyone should install Eclipse and learn how to write enterprise Java code, or buy a microcontroller development board and start writing embedded real-time C++ code. But “coding” covers a very wide spectrum, from engineering a huge software system with hundreds of components and millions of lines of code, to building a simple spreadsheet with a couple of formulas or building a few Outlook mailbox rules to keep your inbox tidy.

As the world becomes increasingly operated and controlled by software (see Marc Andreesen’s “Why Software Is Eating The World” in the Wall Street Journal), having the skills to interact with software in a sophisticated way, and the skills to be the master of a piece of software rather than its servant, becomes an essential professional skill, and probably a life skill too.

2012 Mastering-Technology To-Do List

So as part of the Code Year initiative, why don’t you start working through the following list, and start making technology your servant not your master. See how far through this list you can get before the end of the year. If you can already skip to half way down the list then you ready now to join Michael Bloomberg and write a few lines of code.

  1. Learn to touch type. That means typing whole paragraphs on a QWERTY keyboard without looking at the keyboard for the entire paragraph. This skill alone will save you hours of your life over the coming years, as you increasingly type more emails and documents, fill out more forms in on the web, and use pen and paper less.
  2. Learn how to use inbox rules in Outlook (or similar) to keep your email inbox tidy. This will teach you some basic programming fundamentals like conditions (if X then do Y else do Z) and operators (is X equal to Y, is X less than Y, does FOX contain X, etc).
  3. Learn to use Excel to manage your finances or anything else in your life that involves numbers. Stop using a calculator (and that includes Windows Calculator!) and start using Excel to automate anything that you need to do that relates to numbers, finances, money, budgets, credit card bills, etc. etc. Make sure your spreadsheets have proper formulas for all calculated cells and no “hard coded values” pasted in that you worked out using a calculator.
  4. Learn to use WordPress.com to build a website. It’s really not that difficult. Create an account, choose the name of your site (this could be for a hobby or interest, a club, your own blog, etc). You’ll learn how websites are put together, how to make them look the way you want, and the beginnings of how to build a software system by assembling existing reusable software components (WordPress has “plugins” which you can search for, download and install with a single click, and then set up to make your website do something smarter than most other sites).
  5. OK, now you’re ready to code properly! Visit Codecademy, go on a course, or download Eclipse if you are feeling ambitious!

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