Computer programming, not college, is the key to social mobility

Computer programming, not college, is the key to social mobility

CultureOctober 28, 2016 By Lindsey Kline

America is supposed to be a cultural melting pot bubbling with all different races and ethnicities, free of prejudice and discrimination. But, as we all know, that’s a huge crock of shit.

The truth is that America is far from the utopia it presents itself as. Quite the contrary, the income inequality gap is widening between the rich and the poor, and minority groups are particularly hard-pressed to close the gap when they’re consistently underrepresented and marginalized in all areas of society from housing to the workplace. The primary reason that the lower class remains stagnant and unable to ascend the ladder of wealth is a lack of access to quality education. Without a valuable education, lower class individuals are essentially shut out of high-income jobs that would allow them to enhance their socioeconomic status. What’s needed is a new landscape of opportunity without the typical barriers of entry that keep social classes stagnant.

Programming provides exactly that.

Programming, also known as coding, entails learning a series of commands that your computer can understand and respond to. Its applications are endless: it can tell self-driving cars when to stop and when to turn. It’s the language that helps design animated movies, video games, mobile apps, and every single web site on the internet. It can be used to program drones, space shuttles, and, most importantly, even homemade sex robots.

It’s no wonder that a recent report from Burning Glass, a job market analytics firm, found that there were as many as 7 million job openings this past year that required programming skills. They also found that programming jobs are growing 50 percent faster than the market overall. What’s more, jobs that require programming skills pay an average of $22,000 per year more than jobs that don't.

Joshua Ingram is a brilliant programmer who's experienced firsthand the upward mobility that programming can bring. He sees the career path as a promising avenue for social growth, and contextualizes his newfound coding ability in terms of being an African American living in a country where opportunities for minorites are few and far between.

"If we examine the areas where African Americans have made the greatest strides," he tells us, "They tend to share certain key characteristics: accessibility, creativity, and dependent upon talent and ability more than class privilege or wealth. Consider the music industry: where anyone with enough talent and motivation can emerge at any time from virtually any place. The field is organic and doesn't have the typical barriers to entry: no one cares what school you came from or how prestigious your recommendation letters are. The same can be said for the sports industry. In the US, sports like basketball and football are easy to pick up; you just need a ball, some friends, and an open field.

With programming, all the same key characteristics are there. The same way an artist can pick up a mic and download a program to learn production, a student can go online for a few hours a day and learn to code. Coding is a skill that will only become more useful in the future and can have almost instant value in comparison to formal education, which often involves investing years and thousands of dollars. Learning computer science from a top tier university will likely provide you with the foundation and access you need for success, but that doesn't eliminate the possibility that there is someone just as well equipped out there with nothing but self-instruction and an innovative vision."

That you don’t need a formal education makes coding a particularly valuable opportunity for those who can’t afford to spend four years hung over in a lecture hall. In fact, tech companies have found that actually being able to program is infinitely more valuable than just having a piece of paper that says you can program.

Bruce Borowsky, the co-owner of CodeCraft, a programming school based out of Boulder, CO, admits that “A large majority (90+ percent) of our graduates come from other professional backgrounds that have nothing to do with web development at all.” That means you can be a dog walker, a mechanic, a nurse, a smoothie artist or a stay-at-home mom — all with or without a college degree — and still excel in this field.

What’s more, programming is relatively easy to learn. There are a number of different “languages” you could choose from, like HTML, CSS, Python, or Java. But regardless of which you decide on, learning one doesn’t require you to “think like a computer.” Each program resembles natural language and is based on mathematics and logic because they’re designed to be simple enough for humans to understand. In fact, it’s entirely possible to learn a programming language within a few months.

However, if you want to make a career out of coding, you can’t half-ass the learning process. Borowsky warns of his CodeCraft courses, “These programs are no joke.  People don't realize that in our class they are getting the same amount of training in a subject as you do in your college major. It’s a 100 percent full-time commitment and then some. The students that succeed and thrive in our program put in 8-10 hours each and every day for programs duration and beyond.”

So you might be asking yourself, how would a poor person like me learn how to program? Well, odds are you’re not lucky enough to be a homeless vagrant that a computer engineer takes under his wing and teaches computer programming. The easiest place to start teaching yourself is in a MOOC, a massive open online course, like CodeAcademy.com or Coursera.org. Both sites are an awesome place to begin learning the basics of whichever program your little heart desires, and best of all, they’re completely free.

However, if you’re willing to shell out some guap for something a bit more intensive and likely to land you a job, coding boot camps are a great way to fast-track your way to a six-figure career. Many renowned boot camps are full-time commitments that cost several thousand dollars, but this isn’t the case with all of them. Camps like App Academy and Grace Hopper Academy are free up front, and then take a certain percentage of your income for a year once you land a programming job. What’s more, a few camps are entirely free, like ADA Developers Academy, Recurse Center, and Apprentice. You can find an exhaustive list of coding boot camps throughout the nation and their corresponding prices here.

We’re living in the Information Age. People are more interconnected than ever before and with that comes exposure and opportunity. If you’re looking to climb the social ladder and sip mimosas with the fat cats, programming, not a biology degree, may be exactly what you need. So, whether you’re feeling hindered by your lack of degree or if you just don’t know what to do with your life, it’s time to get with the program and start programming.