Should we all learn coding?

Tuesday March 5 2019

A woman learns programming through coding.

A woman learns programming through coding. Coding is an increasingly necessary talent we need to develop if we are going to maximise and benefit from emerging digital economies and knowledge economies. COURTESY PHOTO 

By Eronie Kamukama

Children as young as five ought to be acquainted with the basics of coding, technology industry players say. Coding involves writing instructions that make machines, applications and software programmes work.

“Code is the nervous system to all technology. It makes machines run. At five, one can read and write so introduce them to concepts of coding and by the time they are seven, they will be good,” Ms Gloria Kemigisha, Andela’s communication associate, says.

The phone in your palm, the lift at your workplace, the airline to Nairobi, your car or even the house you plan to build, all rely on coding. She describes coding as a must-have skill, in the next 10 to 15 years.

“We are in the fourth industrial revolution which consists of robotics and automation. We are moving to wireless technology which is run on software. We shall reach a point where someone needs to know basic coding skills to get a job,” Ms Kemigisha says.

The idea of coding is essential to the job market as it provides an opportunity to teach others and develop software that eases the work of companies and institutions.

For Mr Teddy Ruge, Hive Colab co-founder, anyone who wants to be relevant in the fast growing digital economy should learn to code. He adds that the earlier the better given that there are children winning awards having started coding lessons aged five.

“Coding is an increasingly necessary talent we need to develop if we are going to maximise and benefit from emerging digital economies and knowledge economies. Software is a heavy part of the future of our economy in the same way manufacturing was in the economies of yesterday,” Mr Ruge says.

Last year, Evans Data Corporation conducted research software developer population and revealed there are 23 million developers in the world. United States of America has the largest population while India’s developer population is expected to overtake the US by 2023. It emerged that the top nation for growth is China, where the growth rate is between 6 per cent and 8 per cent, leading up to 2023.

In Uganda, that figure is still unknown according to developers but plans are in place to collect that data. However, there is appetite to learn to code and so is the appetite for good developers. Andela skills women, teenagers and anyone above 18 years in software development at no cost. It receives 800 applications from Kampala per month for its programmes.

Mr Phillip Mambo now in his late 20s, was first introduced to the idea of coding in Primary Six. At the time, his friend’s involvement in developing games spurred his career in Information Technology (IT). “I knew even if I failed at anything in high school, I would find a place in the IT market,” Mr Mambo says.

After high school, he obtained computer networking certification from Cisco, a course he did at Makerere University. Without money to pursue a degree, in 2012, he pursued a Diploma in Software Engineering to learn coding. For part-time, he worked jobs, helping businesses fix communication problems among their computers (networking).

Mr Mambo has, since his graduation in 2015, been teaching himself how to code.
“I am teaching myself how to design phone applications because many people are going digital and they do not have time to use laptops but they want to use the applications on phone, making life easy,” he says.

Benefits of coding
Coding, according to players, is rewarding in terms of pay. “Like anything else, it takes time to develop a skill and be really good at it. But all along the way, you can make a comfortable life for yourself on your way to being Africa’s Mark Zuckerberg or Bill Gates,” Mr Ruge says.

Mr Mambo views it as an opportunity to employ themselves even without stepping in an office premise. Having spent a number of years doing networking jobs, he realised most clients were also searching for people who can code.

“I got a job opportunity with a big beverage company but I did not know the coding language they wanted. So I missed out on the job. I also worked as an intern at a telecom company but the advice I was given is to get a degree and other certificates. Another startup asked for the applications I had designed so I lost the chance,” he explains how hard it is to hire people like him.

With information from Andela’s website, Mr Mambo has also been learning more programming and doing exercises after every module.
“Coding is easy. You just need consistent practice to get used to the commands,” he says.

But, “You have to be online, download tutorials or applications which are heavy and need to be updated yet internet in Uganda is expensive. We have few programmers for that matter. If it was cheap, we would download tutorials and applications that we need to use,” he says.

The best way to learn would be in a team because then you consult but if you are at home, you need to constantly use the internet, according to Mr Mambo. For the most part, coding boot camps are free opportunities to learn fast, with peers on project-based or solution based challenges, Mr Ruge says. It is an opportunity to learn fast from industry professionals.

No academic qualifications
According to Andela, academic qualifications do not matter for one to learn to code. But to get a job, it matters in Uganda. Mr Mambo, after learning the hard way, has returned to university to pursue a Bachelor’s degree in computer science.
“If you have no degree in Uganda, you cannot get a job. Should you only have a diploma, you need to have designed your own applications to get a job to prove that you know the languages,” he says.

Individual software developer Catalyst Africa is undergoing an extensive recruitment exercise in anticipation for the best programmers. As much as the company supports building local capacity, the director Mr Patrick Buleetwa, also admits not everyone who has done software engineering even for three years would be ideal.

“The challenge we have is the knowledge base. You have an IT specialist who cannot code. The young people here are smart but lack facilities,” Mr Buleetwa says, “Providing IT solutions is infinite; when you solve one problem, another comes up. It is an innovative industry and we cannot rely on just expatriates. We have to have home-based human resource.”

When to learn coding
Commenting on when Ugandans should learn to code, Mr Buleetwa suggests earlier in life.
“Most IT specialists we get have the first access to coding at university. I can never say too early but it is very late. To be a good programmer, you need before you enter the field, a minimum of five solid years in coding. The latest is the first two years of high school so that at university, you build up on the basic knowledge. The best would be in Senior One, or in primary school but that will take us a long time,” Mr Buleetwa says.

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