Who’s Learning to Write Computer Code? Not Who You Might Think

Ruby on Rails

One might assume that in this day and age of easy-to-use internet consumer electronic appliances that learning to write computer code is purely the domain of a small subset of the workforce who would have as much in common with everyday folks as theoretical physicists. It turns out, however, that there is an explosion of online and, much more strikingly, face-to-face internet coding training sessions that look more like a girls night out than a traditional hacker session. Indeed, some of the biggest areas of growth in learning to code are women. For example Girl Develop It (http://girldevelopit.com/) is an organization based in New York that offers lessons aimed at women in a number of cities. Women of all backgrounds sign up for sessions held in a number of U.S. cities like New York, Columbus, Austin and Philadelphia as well as Canadian cities like Ottawa and Sydney. One recent session consisted of four 2-hour sessions running after work on Thursdays, where, for $80, 36 nerdettes as they call themselves, learned about HTML basics, introduction to CSS, and CSS positioning and page layout. Another session featured an introduction to server-side languages and PHP as well as MySQL.

A Rails study group

An example of a nerdette is Sarah Henry, 39, an investment manager who lives in Wayne, Pa. who blogged that internet-related code “is fundamental to the way the world is organized and the way people think about things these days.” She took several classes, including some in HTML, the basic language of the Web. Another participant was Rebecca Goldman, 26, a librarian at La Salle University in Philadelphia. She said she had found herself needing basic Web development skills so she could build and maintain a Web site for the special collections department she oversees. “All librarians now rely on software to do our jobs, whether or not we are programmers,” Rebecca. “Most libraries don’t have an I.T. staff to set up a server and build you a Web site, so if you want that stuff done, you have to do it yourself.”

Another group is called Women Who Code (http://www.meetup.com/Women-Who-Code-SF/). Various people organize get-togethers and work on real-life coding projects. For example, one group called Ruby Tuesday is building Bridgetroll, an app that helps Railsbridge keep track of volunteer skills and availability.

What these groups are learning is largely focused on things like Ruby on Rails, (hence the group moniker “Ruby Tuesday”) which is an open source web development framework that runs on the underlying Ruby programming language. Whole communities of people who are largely not your traditional coders belong to groups focused on things like Rails, such as Railsbridge.At the center of the recent frenzy in this field is Codecademy (http://www.codecademy.com/#!/exercises/0), a start-up based in New York that walks site visitors through interactive lessons in various computing and Web languages, like JavaScript, and shows them how to write simple commands.

Since the service was introduced last summer, more than a million people have signed up, and it has raised nearly $3 million in venture financing. They got a lot of attention in January when Michael R. Bloomberg, the mayor of New York, made a public New Year’s resolution to use the site to learn how to code. The site is free. Its creators hope to make money in part by connecting newly hatched programmers with recruiters and start-ups.

The growing interest in programming is part of a larger trend of more people moving toward technical fields. According to the Computing Research Association, the number of students who enrolled in computer science degree programs rose 10 percent in 2010, the latest year for which figures are available.

Improvement professionals need some basic understanding of the tools that can improve processes and tasks. Many tasks and processes are either already affected by apps developed using new tools such as these or many tasks and processes could be greatly improved by applying various web-based apps. Time for everyone to learn about these things to stay current.

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