I was fully educated in the UK I've not been in the education system since 2006. Hindsight has shown me that although the education I received was good, it could have been better. The problem I had was that, at the time, I was unaware I could have been studying more relevant subjects to my professional interests. Of course, digital careers have evolved and expanded since I was in school but web design was just not taken as seriously as it should have been. This isn't a problem just in the UK but worldwide.
About a month ago I watched a video featuring Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Jack Dorsey and others entitled "What most schools don't teach" promoting code.org, a non-profit organisation that help education of computer programming. I thought it was a fantastic concept, but also made me analyse my own experience and what could have happened if I was provided education that was more relevant to me at the time.
Many people in the industry tell a similar story of how they entered the digital industry - and it usually involves falling into the job. SEO was my entry into this industry and fell into it whilst working as a web designer. I am now one of 4 Directors at a digital agency of 14 people split between 2 countries; but I also code as part of my job and also do it in my spare time. Education was not the defining reason I know what I know - I am the reason I know what I know.
My journey through the education system
I was lucky enough to have a computer at home from a young age (13) - before broadband was introduced and when Internet access was a luxury as opposed to a necessity. During my free time I fell into teaching myself HTML out of interest in publishing something people all over the world could read. I built lots of websites by myself and, although I had a clear interest in coding and computing in general, the only thing that I was taught in my GCSE era (middle school/junior high) was how to produce a 3 page website with no features beyond the basics.
By the age of 18 I was competent in HTML and PHP coding. I used that knowledge to fund myself through university by becoming a freelance web designer. I studied Law and I.T. at Leeds Metropolitan University and graduated in 2006 with no specific picture of what I wanted to do. I didn't even want to be a trainee solicitor. Only now have I realised that I was unconsciously being led to a professional path I didn't want to go down.
Digital career paths are more relevant now than other well respected industriesThe digital world is evolving faster than any syllabus could keep up with, but careers in anything digital can still stem from "offline" based subjects. Here are a few examples:
- Art and technology was never paired when I was in school, but are a match made in heaven. Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator have what seem like limitless features for you to produce anything creative - images, website templates, presentations. You could also try your hand at animation (something which I've always wanted to do) or gaming programming.
- People who excel in mathematics should think about data analysis. Google Analytics is a crucial tool for many online businesses to track and measure success in many different forms. Being able to read that data and present it well to others can lead to decisions that generate more profit.
- If you enjoy writing then start a blog and write about something you enjoy. Quality content writers are hard to find and those people are only hired when there are words to read that you have written. If you can write in different tones based on the audience you're targeting then you are a valuable commodity.
- If you like problem solving, then coding is for you. Start with HTML and work your way up to a programming language such as PHP. I taught myself using only free resources I found online.
None of these options were explained to me at the time. This is no fault of the [British] education system as a whole, but perhaps rather a lack of understanding of the digital world and its broad scope into the foundations of traditional . Since October we have been part of an internship program called Agency Life run by Manchester Metropolitan University. Our 6 interns studied the same subject yet all showed strengths that contributed to different parts of our business.
More Jobs = More Potential
Although we're still in the recession, vacancies for graduates are still abundant. The problem students face year by year are more fellow graduates applying for those same jobs. Funnily enough, the digital industry is finding it difficult to high great people and there are plenty of jobs around from copywriters, entry level account managers, social media consultants, designers, developers, business development agents and more...
However, when applying for jobs, nobody I knew were employed by their first choice. The problem my friends and I found, albeit 8 years ago now but still applies today, was that there was nearly always someone who had more experience than them.
Experience is from self-motivation
When studying law, I was told I needed work experience behind me and the only way to gain that experience was to work inside the offices of legal firms. This is similar to most professions as, after all, the most valuable experience you gain is from being exposed to those things first-hand. The greatest thing about the digital industry is that you can build your CV without any time in an office. I was unconsciously gaining experience whilst working as a freelance web designer at university so that when I left I already had enough experience to secure a job. After moving into SEO I was headhunted nearly on a daily basis. A few years on, I'm the one doing the headhunting.
Children can learn right now!
Perhaps my one-year-old niece isn't ready to code yet, but she should learn soon...
I was recently directed by an industry peer to a non-profit organisation in the UK called Code Club. Here, children between the ages of 9 to 11 are given the opportunity to code as part of an extra-curricular activity to learn the basics of coding, schools can offer their resources to teach these children; and developers can contribute their skills and produce activities for the children.
The lesson to learn...
Careers in digital are only going to evolve and expand in years to come, and it's the current students in university and pupils in school who are going to create new products and services that people will use around the world, and will be based on business models that started from a bedroom desk and one laptop.
Being able to make something using only your own time, passion and creativity is something that is only done through self motivation. If you're a student or a pupil then why not try to code something yourself - a website, an app, anything digital! Websites such as Kickstarter are great examples of how time and ambition can fund a company if the idea is good enough.
For teachers and lecturers - embrace this concept and enable students to broaden any ambition they have, even if it's unrelated to the subjects they study. My opinion is that coding should be integrated into core education; and should be considered as important as any other language such as French or Spanish. Using a combination of problem solving, logic and creativity, coding is actually a perfect language for young people to excel in.