Coding: A way into the digital world
Have you thought about getting involved in coding? Perhaps it’s not something that came up at school so you don’t know much about it? How do you prepare yourself for the type of jobs that are now available?
Things have changed dramatically in the last couple of decades. Almost all of us are using a digital device of some kind, whether it be a smart phone, a tablet or a laptop. This means that there are increasing opportunities to work inside this digital space and coding is one of the ways you can get involved.
I had a chance to interview two young people, Cheryl and Emmanuel, both of whom have recently finished their studies at WeThinkCode. This organisation offers free coding training and placement of their graduates in employment opportunities.
WeThinkCode’s states that its mission is ‘to train Africa’s top tech talent in order to drive the digitisation of African business. We’re focused on recruiting the sharpest minds and moulding them into exceptional software engineers.’
1. Tell me a little about yourself and how you got involved in coding?
I grew up in Namibia. Both my parents are South African teachers but they decided to work there. I wanted to study music as I played lots of instruments but my parents said that I needed to be realistic about the world we live in. They suggested that I did something practical.
I started working in a Water Treatment and Recycling Plant and all the data processing was done on Excel sheets. This seemed ridiculously slow to me so I thought I’d look into some way of doing this better. I found WeThinkCode on the internet and then moved to Cape Town to study with them.
I came from Nigeria in 2013 and had to wait some months before I started high school. I spent those months playing on my computer and I continued this throughout high school. We didn’t do any computer work at school but I got involved in doing the Year Book and flyers during that time. Once I finished school I was sent the link for WeThinkCode and applied to study with them.
2. Can you explain what coding is all about?
I think of coding as a kind of a language. You learn it the same way you learn grammar and syntax. Everyone has a style of speaking so, although there are rules of a language, everyone has a different style of speaking. This is also true of coding as there are a 100 different ways of doing exactly the same thing.
You can also think of coding as a logical recipe. You have steps that you follow to achieve the right outcome. Or something more simplistic is a calculator that has been programmed. As you click the buttons, it follows the steps to give you the outcome you want.
Coding has many different digital uses but think of web design and the development of gaming sites. Both of these applications need coding behind them to make them work.
3. What qualifications do you need to apply to WeThinkCode?
You don’t need any qualifications. You have to want to learn, to be curious and to discover what is going on. It’s all trial and error so you need to be able to fail. Many people are not used to failing but coding is constant failure. You get used to it but you need to have the grit to figure out what’s going on.
Aptitude can be taught – everyone can be taught to use computers. But you also need to be curious. Anyone can learn anything they want to. Once you take your first step, it becomes easier to pick yourself up and carry on. People want to drop out if they don’t get it right at first but WeThinkCode is looking for people with resilience. The industry is always changing and moving quickly so if you aren’t resilient you won’t be able to do coding.
Some people say you needs Maths. This is helpful but you need a creative mind that is able to solve problems. You can’t have a closed mind. In coding you can solve things in a number of ways so being able to think out of the box helps. You need to be able to break problems down into simple bits. Anyone can learn code.
Some aspects of coding such as AI (Artificial Intelligence) does require a good understanding of Maths but this is not true of other things such as website design.
4. Tell us more about the WeThinkCode course.
WeThinkCode is a free course and it works on a sponsorship basis. The curriculum of the course is based on what the sponsors need as well as on other points of interest. Once you have finished studying the sponsor usually absorbs you into their company.
It’s a two year course which is free and you get paid a monthly stipend based on a needs assessment. You go into a computer lab which is similar to a real work place. For 8 months of each year you work there and for the other 4 months you intern at a company.
Peer-to-peer learning takes place in the WeThinkCode computer lab so you need to ask your peers’ questions to continue to develop and learn.
In order to be selected as a WeThinkCode student you need to take three online aptitude tests. This is not testing your knowledge of coding at all. It is just to see if you have a problem solving aptitude.
Once you have passed the online aptitude test you attend a month long boot camp. It’s two weeks at the moment because of coronavirus. You come to the one of the campuses (Cape Town or Johannesburg) and you learn the ‘C’ programming language. If you are successful at the boot camp, then you are accepted into the 2-year course.
5. What qualities do you need as a person to enjoy working as a coder?
Resilience. You need to not give up. If something doesn’t work, change it and solve the problem. There might be a lot of crying if you can’t do this. You need to be strong.
You need to be able to tell people when you are struggling and admit that you need help. People are scared of being wrong and that’s why people don’t fulfil their ambitions.
Many people have imposter syndrome when you think you aren’t good enough to do this kind of job but others also think they know everything.
It’s a male-centred environment but, if you’re a woman, you need to overcome that and know that you can do this as well as someone else.
You might be slower than someone else when learning a concept and think you shouldn’t be here but everyone is learning at their own pace and everyone is different.
You need to have a creative and open mind.
6. How good are the work opportunities in coding and can you earn a decent living from it?
There are lots of good opportunities. Tech companies are always looking for coders. The money is generally really good although different fields of coding have slightly different earning potential.
The great thing about the industry is that there are many networking opportunities. There are also so many people who have taught themselves to code and are doing the job. You can’t decide to teach yourself to become a medical doctor but you can decide to teach yourself to code.
Digital technology is now engraved in our world so there will always be job opportunities. You will definitely earn a very reasonable income.
7. How do young people who are interested in coding go about getting involved?
We have the fear of messing up all the time and this stops us trying different things. So what you need to do is to think that you have nothing to lose by trying it and just dive in. It’s like asking someone out. The worst that can happen is that you’ll be rejected but you need to have courage. Instead of waiting for the universe to intervene you need to act. Remind yourself every single day that you want to get somewhere. Even me, I’m still trying to get somewhere and I’ll set a goal or a direction and then I’ll navigate the seas in that way.
For some people, a way to get into coding is through gaming. I was into gaming and this helped lead me into coding. It definitely shows that you will enjoy it.
8. Have you got any advice other for young people?
Don’t feel confined or defined by your background. You can always be better if you strive to be better. Believe you can do it and as long as you have that mind-set, you can do what you want.
People need to take care of themselves – not just physically but mentally too. Be grateful if you have good health even if you don’t have a job yet. Try not to be afraid of the unknown and understand that no good decision can happen when you are stressed out or burnt out.
It was really fascinating to talk to these two young people. I felt quite emotional at times as I appreciated the insight they had in themselves as well as world in which we live. They both have a bucketful of courage and resilience and they should be proud of what they have achieved.
If you think you have these attributes and are interested in finding out more about coding visit WeThinkCode’s website on: https://www.wethinkcode.co.za/
Tell us: Is coding something you are interested in?