Recently, I seem to have encountered coding at every turn. It all started with an article by Jasmin Kirkbride here on BookMachine, back in April. Today’s children are the true digital natives among us, and now that computing – actual coding, not just learning how to use a computer – has been introduced to England’s National Curriculum it seems likely that when they reach the workforce they’ll be bringing a confident knowledge of coding with them. Now not all of us are going to become code whizz-kids ourselves, but Jasmin is one among many who argue that if we don’t at least learn the basic principles of what goes on under a computer’s bonnet*, we risk becoming increasingly out of touch with our future colleagues.
Then a couple of months ago I attended BookMachine’s Unite Workshop, and in a break between sessions I found myself surrounded by coding advocates, including Jasmin. These are bright young publishers who spend their precious spare time expanding their skills online at sites such as Code Academy, when they could (like me) be scrolling through Twitter and trying to make people laugh with their ironic emoji usage. (That’s what lunch breaks are for, right?)
If I didn’t have the coding bug by now, I was well and truly bitten on reading two calls-to-arms by Emma Barnes on the Bookseller website. First, Emma lamented the menial tasks we expect our entry-level publishing staff to waste their time on, and then, in A Manifesto for Skills, which she presented at the FutureBook conference on 4 December, she extended her argument into a call for everyone to be better educated about the power of code: ‘If senior management were technical—if they knew what computers can do—they wouldn’t stand for the gross waste of time and creativity in their companies.’
So it was time for me to get my hands dirty and try some coding myself. My current role involves a certain amount of digital work but, as we’ve already revealed thanks to my ‘bonnet’ metaphor, I’m a noob when it comes to code. And this is where Rails Girls comes in.
Rails Girls is an organisation which aims to make technology more approachable for women, by providing courses and support. They started in Finland and now they operate all over the world. I was lucky enough to get a place on one of their courses – which are free, by the way – and so a couple of weeks ago I headed over to Skype HQ in London and plunged into a room full of friendly experts and rookies to begin my initiation. There I found a lovely fellow publisher to work with, and Emma Barnes turned out to be my tutor. It’s as if the universe had a plan for me.
And now we come to the bit where I explain to you exactly how Ruby on Rails works, and all the cool things I’ve built using it – and I have to confess that, despite squeezing my brain as hard as I can, I just don’t know enough to do this. I’ve only dabbled in the processes and language involved, and it’s going to be a long time before I’m any kind of expert. However, by getting to grips with the language and structures of Ruby on Rails, and building a neat little database for storing book ideas, I’ve begun the process of demystifying what goes on in the black boxes on our desks, and that’s the important point for me.
So my call to arms is just this: take the plunge and learn something about computer code, whether it’s a group course, an online course, or a one-to-one session with your friendly in-house computer expert. If there’s one thing we can be sure of, it’s that the world we work in is changing, and will continue to change. It’s vital that we endeavour to keep our skills up to date, along with our knowledge of the shifting scene around us – what Stephen Page described in his FutureBook keynote speech as a ‘dynamic equilibrium’.
Even if you’re not a girl, you can still find lots of amazing resources on the Rails Girls site and start your own coding adventure. Try it, you might like it – and you are bound to get something out of it too, whether it’s equipping yourself with new skills, or simply having a better idea of where the world is going, so you don’t get left behind.
*I know – I never said I was an expert – not all computers have bonnets.