"You could be looking at a junior level web developer within a few months": Why coding is more accessible than you think
“The first project I did was super nerdy,” said Ben Havery with a grin, “And it was a very simple program and its job was to switch between multiple graphics setting profiles on the video games I played on my computer. I did it so that the graphics on my laptop would be better.
“Essentially, at the time, I played my computer games in two different places. I played them either on my full-powered desktop computer, which was downstairs in the basement of the horrible student house I was living at the time, and then I played the game on my laptop which I could take into the kitchen, which was the only room in the house that was warm.”
Ben, who is now a Full Stack Developer, was studying physics at the University of Bristol but dropped out in his first year before taking up learning coding as a hobby in his spare time.
“I didn't get very far… I did my first year twice and then got the message and dropped out. I’m definitely happier now than I would have been as a physicist. I had a brush with coding at the time, but they didn’t present it in a way that connected to anything in the working world.”
Ben taught himself coding whilst working as a shop assistant “selling handbags for a living”, and then a new housemate moved in that was a self-taught web developer- this is when Ben became inspired to pursue coding as a career. Three years into his learning, he’s already in his mid-level role and earning more than he’d pictured when living in his mouldy shared house.
“My housemate essentially acted as both an object lesson and proof that this could be done. He encouraged me to learn coding properly because I showed interest. He thought I had what it took to get to where he was at, and within a few months I’d learned enough coding to actually be paid for what I did.”
Coding is more accessible than people realise
One of the key points that the 27-year-old was most passionate about was that coding was more accessible than people realise. By using open source materials and the links provided at the end of this article, Ben was able to charge for his skills within months:
“I learned coding for free, there's so many good tools and information out there. I don’t think there’s enough awareness of that and it’s kind of absurd that we have this digital skills shortage when within a few months most people that are mathematically or logically minded could pick this up and do a good job of it- but people aren’t given the direction or opportunity to do that.
“Whatever takes your interest, you can probably specialise into it and get there within a few weeks or a few months. And you can produce an enormously broad range of things that you might find cool along the way, and it's not that long before some of them are good enough to actually sell.”
Coding’s accessibility is the key to solving the crisis
Making people more aware of the accessibility of coding is part of the solution to the current tech skills crisis. Ben explained:
“School didn’t help this crisis, they taught digital natives how to use Microsoft Word. The curriculum took a long time to catch up and they were teaching almost exactly the wrong things. I think if my classmates had been exposed to code when we were learning, we’d be seeing a lot of those faces within coding now and there would be a lot more diversity.”
Ben admitted that the skills shortage is going to continue for a bit, although it will be alleviated in the future as the younger generations enter the workforce. He mentioned that his cousins were being taught code in primary school and that there were loads of children’s games that could teach code to kids.
“But that is almost sort of irrelevant because you can pick this stuff up without being in school. I would say with no direct supervision other than a link to start with, I got to the point where I had stuff I could charge for within about a month and a half or two months and it was better than minimum wage. So if someone went and taught themselves code you could be looking at a junior level web developer within a few months.
“I think that's what cuts to the heart of why it's so accessible. What makes the accessible is that you can walk into a job without a degree or a diploma or anything like that, all it really takes is proof that you can do it- and this is something I think about quite a lot. There's this opportunity for people to actually have a merit-based opportunity for social mobility which is very rare in the modern age.”
A push for diversity within the world of coding
There are many discussions around diversity and inclusion being essential to solving the current talent shortage, but the area that perhaps this is most vital in is the building and development of tech and digital.
“Digital has such an impact on our world, just look at how society has been shaped by it in the last decade. Perhaps if there were more perspectives in the room when social media apps were being built they would be less damaging to people. We’ve got tools with massive impact coming from a very homogenous group of people.”
Lack of diversity in coding can have dangerous- even lethal -consequences. There have been cases of mistaken identity from insufficient AI facial recognition software, and this was down to lack of diversity when teaching the AI.
“There is a shocking lack of diversity in coding,” explained Ben, “I am not diverse by any stretch of the imagination, but I can’t help but look around at my peers and myself and think there should be way more people here who aren’t white and there should be way more people here who aren’t men. Because code affects all of us it should be written from the perspective of all of us, right?”
How to start your journey into coding
Fixing the knowledge of accessibility of coding is part of fixing the current shortage. Below you will find some links to get you started in learning coding.
Inspired by my chat with Ben, I downloaded the app called Mimo to start my own journey into learning some code for fun. As someone who is not mathematically minded, but enjoys puzzles and games, I was surprised to find that I’d reached the intermediate level of HTML coding within a couple of days.
“At the moment coders are kind of overvalued and companies have a hard time finding digital talent because there just aren’t enough of us,” he said, “Obviously not everybody is going to find coding to be their thing, but I want to make people aware that there is the opportunity and the space for people to take those opportunities. I know my life is a lot better now because I stumbled into this thing, much better off than selling handbags.
“To people that have no idea about coding I ask them if they like Lego. Coding basically uses the same skills and it scratches the same itch, but the best bit is that you don’t have to keep buying Lego- you have infinite bricks at your disposal because they're imaginary and they're all free.”
So if Lego and that kind of thing appeals to you then you might as well give coding a shot, even if it’s just for fun, you might find it enjoyable and it always feels great when you get things for free.
Useful links to get you started:
Learn HTML | Codecademy
Learn CSS | Codecademy
W3Schools Online Web Tutorials
To find out more feel free to start a conversation with Benjamin Havery on LinkedIn.