Off the Pedestal: The Future of Programming Jobs

There’s been a lot of buzz in the past week since Wired put out an article entitled The Next Big Blue-Collar Job Is Coding, and it’s got a lot of people taking sides.

For my part, I could not be more in favor of having people code for a living. It’s intellectually stimulating for natural problem solvers, and there is a definite feeling of accomplishment when you walk away from your desktop at the end of the day having built something. In that sense, getting the programmer/rockstar coder cliche off the pedestal it’s been on for so long is a much needed paradigm shift. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain and all that.

From an educational standpoint, I’m extremely biased when it comes to favoring self-driven learning over traditional 4 year degrees. I never went to high school. I didn’t touch a line of code until my second Bachelors Degree. For me, my traditional degrees have always come in second place to my experience at bootcamps and ‘on the job’. On the other hand, many companies are still stuck in the mindset that a prospective employee HAS to have a college degree. But let’s not go down this road too far, there are a myriad of objections and counterarguments for college vs vocational/experiential learning. Focus people.

My issue with the article is not the message, but the contextual frame it’s presented in. There’s no mention in the article of how different programming is to assembly work (or other typically referenced blue collar work from the past century). In my mind, this is a severely limited perspective, and one that does disservice to the readers looking at the Wired article.We shouldn’t be focusing on rockstar/Zuckerberg-esque programmers vs. blue collar programmers, but instead on how to open up more jobs that bring in coders, and then transform them into craftsman.

The article provides no encouragement, or acknowledgement, for coding as a blue collar job to advance to that higher level of craftsmanship. It’s selling a future where blue collar programmers are used interchangeably as plug-and-play modules, “slinging Javascript” at the local bank or managing a login page. It’s only addressing the two opposite ends of the spectrum, when really we need to be focused on creating a new one. Coding is not finite; with so much free learning available online, it’s almost the opposite.

Programming is largely a game of understanding and building systems. If you train people to only look at a small part of a system, without knowledge of the overall system, you are going to see good progress when things are smooth, but serious problems when the system breaks down.

I see a future where coding is a blue collar opportunity, but one not shackled to it’s past. You CAN become fabulously rich without being a ‘superstar’. Understanding machine learning, neural networking, and emerging technologies WILL help you on the job. Deep knowledge may not be necessary at the beginning, but it IS essential for a long career.

So take the article with a bit of salt. It only presents the baseline of what blue collar coding has the potential to be. And that potential is limitless.

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