Need Work? Learn How To Write Code

There is so much talk about the job market these days – sites like mine certainly don’t help – and it’s a wonder that the long-term unemployed don’t just throw their hands up in the air and quit outright.

But the picture isn’t bleak for everyone.  Sure, if you are not white, have experience in government, retail or construction, or have been out of work for more than six months, well, you’re pretty much screwed.  If you are between 35 and 55 you’re in trouble too, and of course much depends on where, exactly, you live.

Yes, the number of jobs went up in February while the unemployment rate actually stayed the same – supposedly thanks to more people actively looking for work in this renewed economy, more people are being considered part of the “employment base” than when folks really were throwing their exasperated hands in the air.

It is true that many manufacturers are set to bring jobs back to American blue collar workers – if they can find any capable of doing the jobs that are, or could be, open.

But beyond all of that, there are real career opportunities for programmers, technical support staff and other people with at least a modicum of technical expertise.

With all of talk about how Google, Facebook, and the rest of the Internet world is impinging on our privacy, the fact is that the companies are collecting vast amounts of data.  Too much for any person, or even large group of people, to consider even denting.  (Think about trying to empty the ocean with an eyedropper.)  Of course Google isn’t planning to parse through these data by hand, hoping to create algorithms to sort through and find the right piece of data for their purposes – but even that skill takes knowhow in a number of areas.

Job titles such as “Data Scientist”, “Programmer Analyst” and “Developers” are ubiquitous in sites such as Indeed or Monster.  Similar, historic titles such as “Business Analyst”, “Project Manager” and “Data Architect” also take up quite a bit of virtual real estate in these sites.  And in most companies, these positions all require if not specific IT experience, then at least a modicum of exposure to, and familiarity with, a variety of systems, methodologies and vocabularies.

And that doesn’t even count the thousands of vertical markets these companies all serve.

With free resources designed to help those of you not terrified of computers to learn programming for free, organizations such as Codeacademy are out there promoting their agendas and gaining a trail of followers at the same time.

example of Python language

Image via Wikipedia

Programming code is not for everyone – it can be a tedious exercise, leading to hair-pulling when you need to try to find the anomaly lost in the thousands of lines of code in your program.  Most of us haven’t actually been exposed to code, simply using the finished products as they are placed in front of us as tools of our trade.

But anyone with a familiarity with computers would recognize much code – logical arguments, calls to action and terminology is not so different within the code than most people are experiencing in the user interface.  And there certainly are benefits to understanding what’s “behind the curtain”, even for non-programmers.

Lawyer-turned-geek Danielle Sucher is keeping a running diary of her experience at New York’s Hacker School for CNN Money, showing the process from a lay person’s (read non-nerd?) point of view.  As many professionals who dive into this new area state, Ms. Sucher frankly admits “I’m not honestly sure yet where I want this to take me.”

Alice Hill, Managing Director of, agrees.  “There are so many directions you can go with [data management] skills.”

But casual toe-dippers be forewarned – computer science is a fast-changing field, with “new” technologies becoming obsolete in a matter of years, or even months.  Platforms are ever-evolving, and the fabulous iPhone or Droid app you design today might not be compatible with tomorrow’s new, better phones.

The nerds play before the school in this clima...

Image via Wikipedia

Still, there is no doubt that this encompasses several of the fastest growing industries of the near past, and will continue into the near future.  Even professionals in industries other than direct IT-related businesses find themselves wondering how to offer products on the Web and mobile platforms, how to use technology to make processes more efficient, and how to use all of the data the company has collected about its customers, users and prospects.

It’s a brave new world out there – and for those with the mind and dedication needed, there is plenty of opportunity.

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