Over the last decade, there’s been a lot of buzz about how everyone needs to learn to code. Though that might not be strictly true – a lot of tech professionals have pointed to the fact that we really need to emphasize the underlying problem solving skills, as opposed to coding itself – there’s still immense demand for professionals working in a variety of programming languages. But this raises the question, what’s the best way to learn to code?

From coding bootcamp to university programs and onsite mentoring, there are a lot different ways to initially learn or upskill your coding capacity, and they can all be effective. For VPs of Technology and similar leaders, the key is to understand the pros and cons of each so that, when managing personnel, you can provide the type of technical support that will keep your business moving in the right direction.

The Bootcamp Route

Coding bootcamps have gained in popularity in recent years, specifically as a way for people who didn’t study computer science in college to master the field, though some experienced coders looking to learn a new language also attend them. But do they work? It depends who you ask and what you expect. Coding bootcamps are short and intensive, may only offer one or two coding languages, but they’re not all created equal. Many have poor job placement rates, but if you’re looking to give an existing staffer a boost, a bootcamp may be a good professional development opportunity.

It’s important to note that, while coding bootcamps are short compared to university education, they’re still relatively long and expensive compared to other options. Typical programs run 16 weeks, though some are as long as 24 weeks – generally too long for any business to dispense with a staffer. They’re also pricey, running about $12,000 as of 2018. Some programs waive their fees in exchange for a cut of graduates’ future income, but that wouldn’t apply to individuals already working in the industry.

Overall, when it comes to what Engineering VPs want their developers to know, bootcamps provide both too much and too little. Even if you’ve got a novice coder on your hands, they’re likely to learn more through a combination of targeted education and in-house mentoring.

Independent Study Options

With tech workers predominately remote right now, many are looking at their independent study options, but if you were in charge of directing them, what would you say? Beyond the bootcamp route, there are a lot of novice coders learning the field through non-traditional paths like watching YouTube tutorials or by accessing other online materials. Websites like Udemy also offer targeted courses, and staff are sure to find resources of professional sites like LinkedIn Learning.

It’s hard to make any broad generalizations about these independent approaches because they tend to depend on the learner, but there are certainly a lot of great tools out there. If you have team members interested in learning a new language or otherwise upskilling, then, your best bet may be to assemble a list of your preferred tutorials. It can also be beneficial if you identify several key areas where you’d like to see team members focus because there are so many new languages and technologies that even veteran coders can feel overwhelmed. Don’t underestimate the value of supporting this type of advancement, though, because – as we see with every project – coders need to be more flexible to navigate the mixed frameworks emerging today.

In-House Mentoring’s Advantages

All tech leaders should be actively mentoring team members, or at least creating a framework in which mentoring relationships can thrive across experience levels, but this can take many forms. One industry favorite right now is pair programming, in which peer coders work together. This process has proven to enhance creative problem solving, increase code quality, and speed learning across coding specialties. The key is to bring together peer coders with different skill sets and let them both monitor and crosstrain each other.

In addition to improving individual projects, pair coding works well by eliminating knowledge silos by having people who don’t normally work together join forces. It can also keep staff from developing bad habits – the kinds of shortcuts that make code error prone and hard to maintain. The downside, of course, is that pair programming is a synchronous process and it’s harder to do remotely, though it’s certainly possible with screen sharing and other technologies.

Finally, it’s important not to overlook that, whether or not it’s acknowledged, mentorship always goes both ways. Especially when mentors and mentees are from different generations, there’s always an exchange of experiences and skills. Groups like Ageless Innovators have also found that intergenerational mentoring also improves workforce integration, which is especially important in a youth-driven field like application development, which can be rife with ageism. Everyone on staff needs to be educated in more than just coding, and pair programming and intergenerational mentorship can drive that kind of development.

Upskilling For Trained Coders
Trained coders obviously have different needs than those new to the field, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be constantly upskilling. Because they already have the foundational skills to succeed, though, their needs are significantly different from new coders. For these team members, short courses in new languages combined with pair programming efforts can be enough to provide a serious skills boost. 

Another upskilling option you should consider for more experienced programmers is cross-training – having someone who works in Development partner with a member of the analytics team or other similar efforts. That kind of knowledge boost can help developers think creatively, develop exciting solutions, and open up opportunities for career growth.

As a technology leader, you need to do more than just support staff and drive projects in the day-to-day. Rather, you need to be clear about what your goals are for your team and evaluate the best ways you can support their growth. The sooner you start doing that, the better prepared your business will be to conquer emerging markets – but even if you start now, development takes time.

If your business is facing a skills or staffing gap as you work to train and upskill your team, ZAGA can help augment your staffing capacity and complete projects quickly and effectively. Contact us today to learn more about how ZAGA can help your business thrive. There’s no need to wait out your growing pains – let ZAGA help your business reach the next level.