Nick Freer: You don’t need to be a geek to succeed in coding

Deputy First Minister John Swinney helped launch 'CodeClan'
Deputy First Minister John Swinney helped launch 'CodeClan'
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There’s an American HBO series called Silicon Valley where young coders write computer programme language or “code” in the hope of being the next tech start-up stars, smoke impressive amounts of cannabis and end up making millions of dollars through VC funding rounds, acquisitions and IPOs.

In the US, the “Learn to Code” movement has been in full swing for a while now and guys like Jack Dorsey, a self-taught programmer and co-founder of Twitter, have made billions of dollars and, in so doing, helped transform coders from geeks to superstars in the public perception.

Nick Freer is a founding director at the Freer Consultancy and Full Circle Partners

Nick Freer is a founding director at the Freer Consultancy and Full Circle Partners

When you’re a programmer by trade like Dorsey or Skyscanner’s Gareth Williams, the day job that comes with being the CEO means that you soon get other people to write code when the start-up moves from a handful of co-founders to a growing team with a minimum viable product, or MVP in tech parlance.

Coders start early these days and you can even buy a book for your baby written by a web developer and a paediatrician called “Code Babies’ ABCs of the Web”, a picture book targeted at the under-fives as an “introduction to the web”. Lego has got into the act too, allowing you to combine coding and robot building. And for slightly older children, most of us know about the Raspberry Pi, a UK-developed basic single-board computer that helps teach programming and computer science to kids across the globe.

At a University of Edinburgh School of Informatics coding festival in 2013, a group of like-minded individuals entered a competition aimed at getting more young people into coding and the inspired collective now known as Prewired was established. Born from concerns that most schools don’t offer the right kind of computer classes, today Prewired runs weekly sessions at CodeBase where young people between the ages of seven and 19 are mentored by university staff, students and local tech companies. Most remarkable is how Freda O’Byrne, Oli Littlejohn and team run Prewired with negligible funding.

In the shadow of Edinburgh Castle and right next door to CodeBase, the UK’s largest incubator, is the UK’s first digital skills academy, CodeClan. CodeClan offers a 16-week professional software development course that primes participants for a career in coding and jobs on the coal face in the commercial and public sectors. I attended the graduation of their latest Edinburgh and Glasgow classes last week, where the chair of CodeClan, Polly Purvis OBE, welcomed graduates before incoming CEO Melinda Matthews Clarkson laid out a number of soon to be announced initiatives.

One of these is around getting more women into tech and keynote speaker and Minister for Further Education, Higher Education and Science, Shirley-Anne Somerville MSP, made a convincing case for not only including more women in tech but to bridge the geographical gaps in Scotland whereby those in remoter areas are starved of the provision of digital skills training in comparison to Scotland’s main cities, particularly Edinburgh and Glasgow.

It was Laurence Woodward, one of the CodeClan graduates who stole the show with an adapted version of Robert Burns’ The Selkirk Grace and perhaps a signal of sorts that Laurence will go far given that industry research says the most sought after programmers in 2018 and the years ahead will be those who can blend technical skills with softer ones like communication skills.

So, as many of us approach Burns Suppers of our own this week, I give you “The Auld CodeClanny Grace” by a somewhat more modern day tech bard:

“Some can code but dinnae code

And some would code that cannae

But we can code, ‘cause we’ve been showed

Here at Auld CodeClanny”

l Nick Freer is a founding director at the Freer Consultancy and Full Circle Partners