Code Schools: Right Path For Professional Programmers? - InformationWeek

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2/9/2015
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Code Schools: Right Path For Professional Programmers?

For students and CIOs alike, the question is whether code schools offer a ticket into the high-tech world.

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How can you tell an important social shift from a quickly shifting fad? That's a question entrepreneurs hope to have answered with recent consolidations in the ranks of online code schools. For students and CIOs alike, the question is whether these schools offer a ticket into the high-tech world or just another trendy thing to talk about at the local coffee shop.

As the push to get people into tech-industry jobs -- part of the broader push to get more people into "STEM" (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields -- has accelerated, the number of schools offering online training in programming has grown. Plural Sight, CodeSchool, CodeAcademy, Treehouse, Hack Reactor, and MakerSquare are just some of the options for people trying to learn how to bend computers and mobile devices to their will. In addition, countless local maker spaces and coding classes have sprung up in neighborhood meeting places, libraries, and even coffee shops, as programmers share their knowledge about programming and software deveopment.

The real question is whether any or all of these courses actually turn a "civilan" into an enterprise-ready programmer.

[ See how GE Capital Treasury's CIO is addressing the IT skills gap. Read 3 Tips For Minding The IT Skills Gap. ]

This is a more complicated question than it initially sounds, because the answer carries you deep into almost metaphysical territory. What, at its heart, is programming? Art? Craft? Trade? Profession? And what separates "enterprise ready" from a talented youngster who can program a Raspberry Pi to control a complex robotic system? These are the sort of issues that sit beneath questions of training and qualifications.

Coding: Profession or trade?

Those who argue in favor of more formal training (university degrees, for example) say that the critical piece of the job-ready skill set missing from online code classes is, essentially, "thinking like a programmer." In a June 2014, piece titled "We Can Code It," Mother Jones magazine wrote about the way programming is being taught and what those methods mean for the students. In a segment on results, author Tasneem Raja wrote, "As the cities that have hosted Code for America teams will tell you, the greatest contribution the young programmers bring isn't the software they write. It's the way they think. It's a principle called 'computational thinking,' and knowing all of the Java syntax in the world won't help if you can't think of good ways to apply it."

For many executives and programmers, coding is better thought of as a trade than a profession.
Image source: Nemo via Pixabay)

For many executives and programmers, coding is better thought of as a trade than a profession.

Image source: Nemo via Pixabay)

The opposite approach to programming was described in a Wall Street Journal article from August 10, 2014, with the very direct title, "Computer Programming Is a Trade; Let's Act Like It." (Note: This article is behind a paywall.) In this article, Christopher Mims wrote, "Computer programming, in other words, has become a trade. Like nursing or welding, it's something in which a person can develop at least a basic proficiency within weeks or months."

Mims refers to companies such as Facebook that put all new programming hires, no matter their academic pedigree, through a six-week training program that includes instruction in programming "the Facebook way." Mims points out that the equal treatment of all hires means that Facebook doesn't see a

Curtis Franklin Jr. is Senior Editor at Dark Reading. In this role he focuses on product and technology coverage for the publication. In addition he works on audio and video programming for Dark Reading and contributes to activities at Interop ITX, Black Hat, INsecurity, and ... View Full Bio
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Curt Franklin
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Curt Franklin,
User Rank: Strategist
2/24/2015 | 5:43:16 PM
Re: Think like a programmer
@kstaron, I think that the people I want to hire don't need a college degree to teach them how to code. A course in coding, perhaps, but they're going to have the basic intellectual tools to hang in and do a decent job as a coder just because that's the way they approach life.

On the other hand, someone who gets the CS degree "because the guidance conselor said the money was good," can get the sheepskin and the credentials and still be someone I want to avoid like the plague when it comes to hiring. Becoming a good programmer is about much more than just knowing the syntax of a language.
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