THE BLOG

Coding the App Economy

23/04/2014 10:33 BST | Updated 22/06/2014 10:59 BST

2014 is the year of the app. On average we are each downloading five apps per month and paid apps have been breaking revenue records. Applications and the money they generate - the app economy - is predicted to be worth US$151 billion in just three years' time.

Consumer desire for apps is certainly there, but I fear an emerging 'app gap' between demand and supply. With the current dearth of STEM (science, technology, engineering, maths) skills - the EU predicts 900,000 IT-related job vacancies by next year - how will we meet the potential of the app economy, if we don't have the skills available to write those apps? The only way to develop this $151 billion economy is if everyone gets involved.

Apps don't need to be seen as some scary, super-techy 'thing' that only mega-brains can create. In reality, thanks to new programming languages, we can all become code-literate. And I believe we will. In the future many of us will be able to create and/or adapt apps as easily as we blog today. To really make the most of the opportunity, we need to change our view of coding as a niche skill. How can we do this? Well, organisations like Code Academy already exist to get us ready for the app economy of the future. They teach coding to non-technical people, in manageable, bite-sized chunks.

In reality, it is the workforce of the future that needs to be the most tech-savvy, and that means up-skilling the children of today. Fortunately their interests and skills are evolving in tandem with the app evolution. For example, just five-ten years ago when my children were in primary school, computing was taught very differently. It was called ICT. At home, kids played on Wii and Nintendo DS consoles, but they weren't downloading apps. These days, however, primary school children's exposure to software is very different, and so is the way in which they are taught. Under the new primary school curriculum that starts this year in the UK, all children will learn to code. This means that in the future, everyone will have some experience of coding, which should help to change for the better prevailing attitudes towards programming: it will no longer be 'an unfathomable, dark art.'

Software development also needs to break free from its 'geek' image. We need to get to a place where coding is just another core skill like maths or English, or even riding a bicycle or swimming. Kids should not only love Minecraft, they should want to programme it too - it should be a cool thing to do. Learning to code from the age of five has the potential to help get us there.

Businesses are another important element in the success of the app economy. This is because the apps that it is comprised of should not just be consumer-focused. The percentage of business apps is increasing rapidly and the whole enterprise software model is undergoing a revolution. This does not mean all companies need to be in the apps business but they do need to plan ahead and have the infrastructure and tools in place to benefit. Just as the way kids interact with technology is evolving, businesses also need to evolve the way they provide applications to their employees. They need to keep up with this shift to mobile applications, otherwise they will find they are out of step with a workforce that is mobile app savvy and code-literate.

The app economy presents a huge opportunity to businesses and consumers alike. However, making the most of it requires a significant shift away from entrenched attitudes and behaviours. To avoid a wide 'app gap' opening up, we need to ensure both businesses and individuals are prepared with the necessary skills to embrace it.

If you want to start building an app, why not join the thousands of others, from celebrities, through to business leaders and housewives, and try learning a little coding yourself? Many of the websites that teach you how to programme are free and while some mix fun with learning, others say they deliver results within twelve weeks. Many businesses are also supporting their employees - particularly those in marketing roles - through these types of courses too. There's lots of free advice on building apps available too, like this from Salesforce. After all, the success of the app economy depends on everyone getting involved.