If you're reading this post online, you're likely using a computer or on a mobile device. Chances are this won't be the only interaction you have with the Internet today, or any other manner of digital things: self-checkouts, screens displaying train times, touchscreen ATMs, and many more.
All these things have been created by computer programmers - the people who speak the language of the 21st century! They build systems that allow the rest of us to have a seamless experience making a purchase online or withdrawing money from a hole in the wall. These few digital creators are allowing the majority of us to be consumers of technology that helps to improve every aspect of our daily lives, and the demand for these digitally skilled workers is expected to grow significantly.
London alone is anticipated to be 300,000 digital workers short by 2020, with an additional one million vacancies across Europe (as estimated by the European Commission). An explosion of mobile applications and online businesses are part of what is driving this shortfall, but programming is infiltrating all industries, not just tech. From agriculture to media, medicine to retail, employers in all industries will be looking for programmers to help keep them competitive as more products and services become digital.
How do we fill these vacancies?
Coding is often feared by those without experience of it. It's a foreign language which feels impossible for outsiders to comprehend and access. But we are beginning to break down these barriers to help people realise that anyone can learn how to code. From September 2014, students in the UK will have the wonderful world of coding opened up to them as it becomes part of our national curriculum. Children from ages 5 through to 14 will start to learn how to program. These students will develop key digital skills that will allow them to take greater advantage of career opportunities in the workplace of the future.
We'll see a lot of young people with a new kind of education. How do we think they'll take over the world? Whilst learning how to program will undoubtedly lead people into jobs of the 21st century, it is also about the computational thinking that this develops - abstraction, algorithms, decomposition and pattern recognition. Programming teaches more than how to code - it teaches us how to think. It is a skill everyone should learn even if you have no desire to become a software engineer.
It's never too late to start learning
There is an abundance of free resources online for people looking to learn how to code. The company I work at - Codecademy - offers free interactive courses online where you learn to code by making real world projects (eg. building the Airbnb landing page).
As people develop advanced digital skills, many career opportunities begin to open up. The UK is a great place for start-up companies to thrive with many incentives for entrepreneurs. This should encourage young workers - or those who've long been harboring an entrepreneurial dream - to branch out and start their own things. In doing so, they can set a new agenda for company culture and how business gets done.
We can expect to see people with digital skills - who have typically been relegated to a back room with their laptops - rise to the upper echelons of management not just in the business world, but in sectors like agriculture (farmers are learning to code to better plan for the seasons and distribution logistics) and science, where scientists are using algorithms to analyze huge data sets.
Programmers will become much more visible and there will be greater recognition of how important they are in creating and supporting our evermore digital world.