Computer coding is a trade that doesn't need college degree
By Michael Hennigan, Finfacts founder and editor
Aug 5, 2014 - 5:43 AM

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US computer science bachelors degrees granted, 1966-2010 - - Christopher Mims via Twitter

Computer coding is a growing area of jobs demand in the US and elsewhere while the function is essentially a trade. However, four-year computer science college degrees are a standard requirement for the job but not alone is this unnecessary, the high demand for places means that many young people with potential cannot enter the sector.

This is an argument that was made Monday in The Wall Street Journal by Christopher Mims the newspaper's new technology columnist.

Mims writes that 14% of the members of some teams at Google don't have a college degree, and 67% of the programming jobs in the US are at non-tech companies where other kinds of industry experience are more likely to be valued.

Finfacts: Almost three quarters of US STEM graduates do not work in STEM occupations

Mims says computer programming like nursing or welding, is something in which a person can develop at least a basic proficiency within weeks or months. "And once budding coders learn enough to get their first jobs, they get onto the same path to upward mobility offered to their in-demand, highly paid peers."

He says that the US Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that by 2020, one million programming jobs in the US will go unfilled. "And traditional institutions, which largely treat introductory computer-science classes as barrier courses designed to weed out all but the most committed students, are demonstrably not meeting the need. This year, the University of Washington could accommodate only a quarter of the qualified students who applied to its computer science major. And this is happening at schools across the country, most of which have seen hockey-stick growth in applications to both be computer-science majors and to take individual courses in recent years."

Mims cites the rise in coding schools in the US but he makes clear that he is not dismissing the value of a computer science degree if a student can afford it -- student loan debt in the US has risen to $1.2tn.

Mims also cites Facebook where  a new engineer attends six weeks of intensive classes, many of which are programming classes.

"This is in part because university courses in computer science favor theory over programming, which is a mishmash of skills ranging from practical knowledge of in-vogue programming languages to how to work on projects that involve dozens of other programmers and thousands or even millions of lines of code," he says.

Coding schools, online and otherwise, let everyone from recent high-school graduates to career switchers skip straight to the part where they learn how to make the things companies actually care about -- websites, services and apps.

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