Coding as a Blue Collar Job

If you were to ask many people what their view of a “coder” is, they would probably refer in some way to a hoody-wearing geek type in Silicon Valley working crazy hours to create the next big thing. A recent article in Wired points out that less than 10% of the nation’s coders are employed in Silicon Valley.  More software development comes from regular jobs with normal(ish) hours and good pay from all over the country. What if we were to view these jobs as more of a “skilled worker” or blue collar job? Many blue collar jobs require a lot of training and are highly specialized similar to learning to code. Examples include airplane mechanics, electricians, oil and gas industry workers, plumbers, and various skilled construction jobs. Perhaps this view of coding would be less intimidating and encourage more people to try it.

As our country worries about the loss of blue collar jobs and automation, we need to think about what type of work will continue and grow. The average IT annual salary is about $81k and the field is expected to expand 12% from 2014 to 2024. Lumping in coding with the entirety of the IT is a bit of a stretch but it helps to see that in general the technology field will keep growing. And while some workers may start in coding, they may find other aspects of IT interesting and move around in the field. Plus, new specialties within the field are constantly emerging.  As one of my professors at Emory University in Atlanta likes to say, “The job you will find in five years does not exist today.” The skills that come with coding – problem solving, abstract thinking, and teamwork – fit a lot of knowledge worker jobs. Perhaps knowledge worker or skilled worker jobs are the future blue collar jobs.

Getting back to the stereotypical pop culture view of coding, most coding is not the high profile national news stories like self-driving cars and artificial intelligence coming out of Google.  America’s businesses large and small need software developers. At Start Code, we are regularly asked questions about whether we know someone who can write an app, create a specialized website, or write some software for a data job of some sort. These are jobs aren’t sexy enough for Wired to do a story on them, but they are good paying intellectually challenging work. And as the American workplace shifts to the “gig economy” with a focus on shorter work stints and less company / employee loyalty, these jobs fit well.

So how does this affect kids taking a coding class today? We believe that it’s important for them to at least try coding and practice creating with technology. They need to understand the mindset and find the confidence that they can do this if they choose to. Today’s students don’t need to be the superstars with the next billion-dollar idea. They just need to see coding as a skill that they can develop and then use in whatever field they pursue. We need to take the mystery out of coding and show them that it’s also fun to make things, whether it's in coding classes or summer camps. Coding is more often putting existing pieces of code together in new ways to solve a problem. If they understand how the separate pieces work, they can remix existing ideas into new things. We’re excited to see what they do.