Code Schools: Right path for professional programmers?

Code Schools: Right path for professional programmers?

How can you tell an important social shift from a quickly shifting fad? That’s a question entrepreneurs hope to have answered with recent consolidations in the ranks of online code schools. For students and CIOs alike, the question is whether these schools offer a ticket into the high-tech world or just another trendy thing to talk about at the local coffee shop.

As the push to get people into tech-industry jobs — part of the broader push to get more people into “STEM” (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields — has accelerated, the number of schools offering online training in programming has grown. Plural Sight, CodeSchool, CodeAcademy, Treehouse, Hack Reactor, and MakerSquare are just some of the options for people trying to learn how to bend computers and mobile devices to their will. In addition, countless local maker spaces and coding classes have sprung up in neighborhood meeting places, libraries, and even coffee shops, as programmers share their knowledge about programming and software deveopment.

The real question is whether any or all of these courses actually turn a “civilan” into an enterprise-ready programmer.

This is a more complicated question than it initially sounds, because the answer carries you deep into almost metaphysical territory. What, at its heart, is programming? Art? Craft? Trade? Profession? And what separates “enterprise ready” from a talented youngster who can program a Raspberry Pi to control a complex robotic system? These are the sort of issues that sit beneath questions of training and qualifications.

Coding: Profession or trade?

Those who argue in favor of more formal training (university degrees, for example) say that the critical piece of the job-ready skill set missing from online code classes is, essentially, “thinking like a programmer.” In a June 2014, piece titled “We Can Code It,” Mother Jones magazine wrote about the way programming is being taught and what those methods mean for the students. In a segment on results, author Tasneem Raja wrote, “As the cities that have hosted Code for America teams will tell you, the greatest contribution the young programmers bring isn’t the software they write. It’s the way they think. It’s a principle called ‘computational thinking,’ and knowing all of the Java syntax in the world won’t help if you can’t think of good ways to apply it.”

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