In 2011 Eric Schmidt, then still CEO of Google, used his MacTaggart lecture at the Edinburgh TV festival to lambast the UK education system for not teaching coding as part of the curriculum.I entirely agree.
I remember the pride at seeing my name flash cyan/magenta on the screen of my BBC Micro when I ran the little program I had been taught to write. Now children are only taught to use software and not how to actually make software.
In the US children are now being sent to Code Camps in the holidays. In the UK we have some laudable initiatives like Code Club for schools but far too little is being done, too slowly.
We marketers should learn about coding as part of our commitment to embracing technology. We do not need to become developers but we need to understand enough about what is going on ‘under the hood’ so we can better communicate with the technologists we ultimately rely on to deliver digital marketing.
So I decided to go on a day’s training course, run by Decoded, called ‘Learn to code in a day’. Time to eat my own dog food.
The mixture of the ten participants was interesting. Half male, half female. Two sixteen year olds who had just finished their GCSEs. A Malaysian businessman on a tourist trip to London who fancied doing this course as it was ‘more interesting than visiting the Tower of London’.
A couple of marketers from a big fashion brand. A very senior ex Google/Facebook executive. An Editor of a magazine. No-one thought it likely they would become a coder but all perhaps wondered that if the geeks are to inherit the earth then it might be useful to know how to talk to them.
We learnt about the history of the web and the tech building blocks that make it work. Browsers, DNS, data formats, web servers, databases, programming and mark up languages, libraries, frameworks… how it all fits together and how it works.
So how valuable is it for marketers to immerse themselves in learning about coding?
For me there are three significant benefits which relate directly to other elements of our marketing manifesto, namely Creativity, Data and Character.
Learning a bit more about coding fuelled creative marketing ideas. For example, I wasn’t aware of how HTML5 allows for geolocation through the browser using Wi-Fi positioning technology: you can still tell where a customer is even if he or she isn’t on a phone or tablet.
On the data side, I didn’t know that if you go to graph.facebook.com/(Facebook name) then you can see what data Facebook are making available about that person. Try it for your own name. Intriguing.
But perhaps most beneficial was what relates to the ‘Character’ part of our manifesto. There we propose eight characteristics that a modern marketer should have. Three of those are: Collaborative, Innovative, Brave.
Learning about coding, and technology more broadly, fosters greater collaboration between marketers and technologists. It fuels innovation and experimentation. It is energising and fun. It feels like the heart of what it means to be ‘digital’ as a marketer.