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Coding skills: the market's new basic requirement

Coding skills: the market's new basic requirement

ArabFinance: Closing Egypt’s large skill gap has become a more challenging process as the need for digital literacy and multi-skilled labor considerably increases in the country and worldwide. In the past few years, technical skills such as coding have been widely applied by non-technical employees with positive results, which has set a new benchmark with programming knowledge as a basic skill also to professionals out of the information technology (IT) bubble.

“Learning to code does not constrain you to a life of being a developer. On the contrary, it opens a lot more doors to achieving a successful and rewarding career,” says Ayman Hofi, IT Service Manager and Network Administrator at a Canadian financial firm.

Coding is essentially the act of writing logical instructions to a machine and teaching it how to perform a certain task. As Egypt has embarked on a journey of digital transformation, it is a matter of time until understanding how to interact with different digital tools also becomes essential to non-technical Egyptian employees to adapt to new digital solutions across multiple sectors.

However, keeping up with “the new normal” causes some anxiety around whether the digital shift will widen the country’s skill gap and have the workforce replaced by machine work, which could both contribute to an increase in unemployment rates.

According to World Bank’s Vice President for Infrastructure Makhtar Diop, there is no reason to fear digitalization as “the ongoing wave of innovation has created entirely new business models, products, and services, giving countries a unique chance to generate value and jobs,” he told Business Today Egypt.

As for reducing the skill gap, it is necessary to demystify the belief that coding skills are reserved to those working in technical jobs, and adapt to the increasing coding demand through training and early digital literacy, spreading awareness to the benefits of coding skills within different areas of expertise.

Benefits of widespread coding skills

Positive outcomes of having non-technical employees with coding skills can be observed on the adaptation of newly-hired IT professionals to the company. Considering that the IT industry usually does not exist by itself, but rather by the other industries in the market, hiring IT professionals with a different secondary industry background should be a lot easier if the whole team can help them adapt.

"Usually, when hiring IT professionals, you should consider which is their secondary industry, otherwise they may have a ramp-up period to get to know your industry and its requirements. This may impact you in different ways, ranging from schedules taking longer or features not being properly understood by the IT, consequentially increasing costs caused by changes, including, in the worst case, the financial impact of defects and bugs caused by badly implemented demands. If your business team has at least a minimal understanding of how coding works, they are very likely to better translate those requirements to the IT professionals, in this case mitigating the risk of problems,” says Senior Software Engineer Mauricio Maica Reis.

Some more specific benefits depend on the tasks under each employee’s position. “One example is the accounting professionals who deal with spreadsheets. Although the ‘complexity’ of Excel formulas is extremely superficial comparing to formal programming languages, it is indeed a way of coding. The problem lies in the syntactical simplicity of Excel formulas, that may grow in a way that becomes harder and harder to read and to understand,” he adds.

Having a team with basic knowledge of Excel programming language, called Visual Basic for Applications (VBA), can facilitate the understanding of reports issued by accountants. If more complicated reports cannot be read, this can impose not only delays in operations, but also potential mistakes.

“Coding is not only about writing to a machine to understand but also to other human beings. You may be the author of a super-smart book, but if only a specific group of people is able to read and to understand it, probably you have not achieved your final objective to its fullest,” Reis explains.

An even greater advantage is that coding enables automating tasks, also known as ‘creating macros’. “Are you tired of performing a repetitive task in your life? Have you ever considered teaching a machine to work for you?” he jokes.

Automated tasks have an enormous positive impact on a company’s productivity and schedule. The 2020 In(Sight) Report issued by WorkMarket indicates that 54% of the employees surveyed believe they could save 240 hours annually through automation.

Besides that, automation can also greatly contribute to employees’ satisfaction and mental health. “Forbes surveyed 302 senior executives involved in the implementation of Intelligent Automation and Robotic Process Automation (RPA) worldwide and discovered that 92% indicated an improvement in employee satisfaction as a result of these initiatives,” Chris Huff, Chief Strategy Officer at Kofax, wrote for HR Technologist.

As explained by IT Service Manager Ayman Hofi, “No matter what your career, profession, or background is, programming skills are useful, and there are endless chances to financially capitalize on these opportunities.”

Start programming

Looking at preventing the country’s skill gap from stretching and generating more job opportunities to young professionals, Egypt has launched important programs to champion digital literacy.

Under the pillars of ‘Digital Egypt’, a governmental strategy to achieve digital transformation, Egyptians over 18 years old can enroll online to the Future Work is Digital (fwd) program, which is a technology learning and upskilling scholarship program that equips young Egyptians with the tech skills practices for top demand freelancing and online work.

In 2019, the Information Technology Industry Development Association (ITIDA) announced the country’s willingness to get more secondary school students coding through the Technology Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center (TIEC)'s “Next Coders” program, which aims to train students from the first grade of public schools from all governorates. So far, 1064 students from 616 schools across 27 governorates have completed the program.

Learning to code, however, doesn’t necessarily need to be a collective initiative as there are lots of tools available online to acquire this new skill. “It can pretty much be done online and from the comfort of your home, and be learned flexibly around your other commitments,” Hofi states.

According to Reis, employees “should get to know the tools that your industry is very likely to use and check which programming languages those tools accept.”

“Coding is analogous to learning to speak a new language. Every machine or tool prefers to speak in a specific language. You must learn how to interact with them. Once you find out which programming language that is, find its official website and read its documentation. All programming languages offer its ‘learn’ section,” he adds.

As the prestigious physicist Stephen Hawking once said: “Whether you want to uncover the secrets of the universe, or you just want to pursue a career in the 21st century, basic computer programming is an essential skill to learn.”

By Mariana Somensi

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