We put a lot of emphasis on teaching our kids skills, but do we teach them for the present or what they will actually need in the future? I read a couple of articles this week that got me thinking about that question. The first article was in The Conversation and was in a response to UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson’s speech on leveling up and skilling up the UK regions and population. The article pointed out that although Johnson seemed to wish the UK to promote a high value manufacturing economy, the skills that he was referencing would actually be expected to almost become obsolete in a relatively short time frame. Manufacturing today uses much less human involvement than it did even a decade ago, and the emergence of Industry 4.0 will reduce that much further in the future. In fact, taking Industry 4.0 to its logical conclusion would see very, very few humans working in manufacturing at all.
The second article I read was in the same vein, but concerned programming. Vice was reporting that a tech startup called Bubble raised $100 million in a series A funding round. Bubble is a no-code platform that allows anyone to develop code without actually coding. This is not a totally new thing, as many companies in the past have tried to implement code generation using techniques such as dragging and dropping functional blocks. These have had varying degrees of success. Most were intended to generate code for proprietary hardware, such as T&M manufacturers providing the platform for customers to automatically generate code that would provide the test coverage they required. According to users on Reddit, at the moment, the Bubble product is not too impressive and needs a lot of work to incorporate into existing installations. One user even mentioned that people are setting themselves up as independent Bubble consultants to assist customers with the platform, which is hardly conducive to the “No-code multiples the software engineering market by 100X, turning millions of non-tech users into software builders" message the company wishes to convey.
Bubble may or may not end up a success, but some day, one company will get the “no code” platform right and working well. That day will probably not be too far off as AI hardware and software gets more powerful and quicker with every new generation. This brings me back to my original point – there are literally hundreds of software applications and hardware platforms like Raspberry Pi, Arduino, BBC micro:bit and robots specifically intended to teach children to code when coding itself could be, if not defunct, then at least a niche skill in the future.
Personally I think coding is a lot more valuable than purely for the code it generates. It teaches problem solving abilities and requires attention to detail to break down the assignment into manageable chunks, code and then debug. What’s more it does it in a practical way that offers a real reward at the end of the process. Kids take in more when learning is fun, and the need for coders in the future may just be a bubble that does not burst.