Can you teach code in a day to those who don't know their CSS from their elbow?
It’s a common complaint amongst traditional agency stalwarts and media owners. They understand every task associated with their craft bar one; coding for websites.
In fact what goes on in the coding corner can seem as a bit of a black art. And its young, headphone-clad practitioners can be viewed with suspicion. After all they have a lot of power when it comes to deciding what is possible, achievable and doable by dint of the fact nobody else really understands what they do.
However, now a team – which includes a very traditional ad man in the form of HHCL-founder Steve Henry – have decided to do something about this. They have launched a company that aims to teach people who don’t know their CSS from their elbow how to code in a day.
Operating under the name Decoded, it promises that, after just a few hours, students – regardless of their previous experience – will be able to build their very own mobile app, complete with geo-positioning functionality. Intrigued, I joined one of the sessions, which was being held near London’s Silicon Roundabout.
There was around 10 of us taking part, ranging from large agency CEOs to a housewife looking to develop a new business. An eclectic group, but the introductions demonstrated we shared the same insecurity; our lack of knowledge in this key area could cost opportunity. Heaven forbid, if nothing was done perhaps the guys with the headphones could even end up taking our jobs.
Our course leader for the day was Alasdair Blackwell. But despite describing himself as ‘digital Sherpa’ he did not fit the profile of the usual coding nerd. He had social, as well as social media skills.
“What people to not appreciate,” he told us, “is that by delegating all responsibility for coding they are actually abdicating responsibility for a major part of the creative process.
“Coding is really about 40% planning, 40% research and 10% debugging. Only 10% of the process is actually putting together code.
“But can you really learn to code in a day?” he asked. “Surely it takes 10,000 hours to learn a craft? But today is really about starting to break this process down. Today we are going to pull back the bonnet and allow you to take a look under the hood.”
The afternoon itself then focussed on the development of our geo-positioning app. After a session which aimed to demystify coding terminology we were briefed on the app we were to build.
It was to be a simple app – their description not mine – that was to deliver a message when the user arrived at a specific location.
Blackwell pointed out that there are three key steps in every build; defining the function, the variables and the logic. So in this instance the function is to monitor a user’s position, the variable might be the distance between the user and the final destination and the logic how to calculate the actual distance between the two points, so the app knows when they have arrived.
The other key revelation here was that most of the code we needed already exists. It was simply a case of finding it, and then effectively cutting and pasting it into our application.
Apparently the technical term for this is ‘matching’ as opposed to ‘stealing’, but it does demonstrate the very open nature of the web: the ethos seems to be that it is better to open your code up so a vast community can contribute to its evolution, as opposed to keeping it locked down where only a few can move it forward.
The whole experience was without doubt the most intensive learning experience I have ever had. But can I now code? No. But do I feel have a better sense of what goes on in coders corner? Absolutely. There is no doubt that everybody involved in this industry would be better off with a grounding in this area. That way at least we can ensure the geeks will not necessarily inherit the earth.
Find our more at www.decoded.co