Should Coding Be Seen as a Trade?

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Maybe that’s taking it to the extreme, but Tim Cook made it clear last week in a meeting of the American Workforce Policy Advisory Board that he, Apple as a whole, and some other Silicon Valley companies see coding as a skill that doesn’t require a traditional four year degree for productive job consideration and placement. I can’t say that I disagree with him.

While I have a bachelors degree and a masters degree in music, I have never attended anything beyond specialized software training courses for my current job. I learned a lot of what I know today on my own, through the mentoring of others and through on the job experience. I’ve been, among other things, a programmer ands systems integrator for the last 18 years without one second spent in a college computer course classroom. I know I’m not the only one with this story, either.

I am not here to tell you that a four-year degree in Computer Science is useless. For some careers, especially those which will require a certain level of flexibility, it is still the best path to the workplace. However, I also think that Tim Cook is correct that not all programming jobs require a college education. A two-year program at a community college should be enough for many careers, especially those that are more specialized. For students who aren’t interested in the traditional college experience, this is an ideal and less expensive route to a living wage job.

For example, my oldest son has made it clear that he has no desire to attend a four-year university. He will graduate high school next week, take off a year and work and then go to one of two local community colleges depending on the field he chooses. You would be surprised how many well-paying careers only require a two-year degree to get started.

When you consider the fact that many states are already offering free courses in their community colleges for career-path classes in key trades, this is a perfect time for more companies to re-evaluate their minimum application requirements for certain jobs. My generation was taught that you had to go to get a four-year degree at a minimum before entering the working world. Many in today’s generation see the world differently and I can’t say that I blame them based on my own experiences.

There is a push to get more students to consider skilled trades and there are more people who are interested in going a different route than a traditional degree with the time and money that are required for it. The company I work for uses a lot of Union technicians in a few trade fields with great success. Considering that most of these guys have no higher education, they are earning pretty competitive wages after five years of apprenticeship. Mind you, they are also getting paid all through that five years while they gain valuable experience. Apprenticeship is a job preparation method that has been proven over a thousand years and there is no reason it can’t still be implemented in the modern world.

There are many coding careers that could be handled in a similar manner with the right amount of preparatory training and on the job mentoring. With a little more open-mindedness, companies all over the US can make life much easier on themselves and tap into a much larger talent pool looking to get a fast start in a new career in coding. If some of the biggest companies in Silicon Valley are doing this, then more should be following their lead and thinking outside the box when it comes to minimum job requirements.


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