• The world of work is changing rapidly with the COVID-19 pandemic accelerating the uptake of Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies.
  • Many people are reskilling and technology jobs are seen as offering better job security.
  • The basics of coding can be learned in just weeks, while becoming fluent in a programming language can take months.
  • More work needs to be done to address the gender imbalance in software development, with men making up 91% of those working in the sector.

The labour market has been massively disrupted by COVID-19 and the ensuing recession, prompting many to consider a role in the technology sector as a way to future-proof their career.

The world of work was already changing rapidly with new technologies driving the Fourth Industrial Revolution pre-pandemic, and this digital transition has only accelerated in the wake of the pandemic.

As such, technology jobs are often seen as offering better job security and a way of staying at the forefront of technological innovation amid ongoing economic uncertainty.

Future of Jobs Report 2020
How the jobs landscape will change in the next five years.
Image: World Economic Forum

One particular area of interest during the pandemic has been computer programming, or coding, which refers to the process of writing the instructions for what a computer, application or software programme does.

These instructions are written in high-level programming languages such as C++, Python and JavaScript. The basics can be learned in a few weeks, although it takes at least a few months to become fluent in a particular language – making them ideal to learn at home amid lockdowns.

Coursera says these five free-to-join coding courses are among the most population available on its global online learning platform.

This course from the University of Michigan builds on the beginners Python for Everybody course and teaches students to programme, analyze and visualize data with Python.

Also from the University of Michigan, this course covers how to write syntactically correct HTML5 and CSS3, as well as how to create interactive web experiences with JavaScript.

Offered by the University of California, Santa Cruz, this course covers the basics of programming in C and more advanced C++ semantics and syntax, preparing students to apply these skills to a number of higher-level problems using AI algorithms.

Duke University runs this beginners course, teaching core programming concepts as well as the foundational skills a software engineer needs to solve real-world problems, from designing algorithms to testing and debugging programmes.

This Princeton University course focuses on Java and begins by introducing basic programming elements such as variables, conditionals, loops, arrays and I/O.

Online learning vital for reskilling

In addition to their direct employment benefits, coding skills can help boost people’s critical thinking and problem-solving abilities.

According to the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report 2020, half of all the world’s workers will need reskilling by 2025. And even those who stay in their roles will need to adapt, with 94% of business leaders expecting staff to pick up new skills on the job.

It is therefore not surprising that the pandemic has seen a surge in the popularity of massive online learning courses (MOOCs) – those designed for mass participation which are either free, subsidized or much cheaper than conventional higher education courses.

Coursera, the world’s largest MOOC provider, alone saw a 1,500% month-on-month rise in demand for personal development content between February and March last year.

MOOCs can widen access to education

MOOCs have long been praised for democratizing learning by enabling people anywhere in the world to access courses run by top educational institutions.

However, while MOOCs are used by tens of millions across the world, some studies indicate there are still some issues relating to educational equity – particularly in regards to gender. In 2018, US researchers found that only one in four learners enrolled in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) MOOCs was female.

Coding still a male-dominated sector

This gender imbalance is also reflected in STEM industries such as information technology (IT). In 2019, women working in technology in the UK, for example, accounted for only 17% of the IT specialist workforce.

Meanwhile coding workshop provider SheCodes claims that women make up 25% of coders, while earning 30% less than men.

This has prompted initiatives and organizations such as SheCodes, Code First Girls and Women Who Code to empower women to break into the technology sector.

With the socio-economic implications of COVID-19 already disproportionately affecting women, MOOCs could help play a vital role in addressing such imbalances.