On Friday 22 November 2019, before this year’s Futurebook conference, 40 delegates from across the publishing industry will attend the very first Day of Code at Hachette HQ in London. There, under the guidance of a team of 15 coaches, they will work in teams to build their own websites, and discover the power of code in practice. In this interview, Day of Code coach John Pettigrew previews the event and explains why coding is important for today’s publishers.
What is the Day of Code, and how are you involved with it?
The Day of Code is an opportunity for people working in publishing to spend a day learning how our modern world is put together. It’s been organised by Sara O’Connor and Emma Barnes of Consonance and will get participants to build, with their own hands, a real application based on book data. The hope is that this will give them an insight into the skills, technologies and approaches that underlie much of the web.
I’m one of the guides who’ll be working with the participants – because the one truth of learning to code is that you’ll make mistakes. The guides know publishing and also know code, and we’ll help participants to work out what’s gone wrong and how to fix it.
Do you think coding is a skill that everyone in publishing should learn?
Not everyone can or should actually become a programmer, but everyone should know how computers do what they do. Computers drive so much of our industry, from project management to on-screen editing to sales reporting, that we can become just passengers. But, if we want to be able to improve our products, workflows, techniques, tools or anything else, we need to be aware of what’s really going on with our words and our data.
What kind of background do you need to get started in coding?
Learning to code is, at its core, about learning to explain in great detail and accuracy how a job should be done (by a computer). So you can come to coding because you understand a job extremely well and want to get a computer to do some of it. Or you can come to it because you enjoy analysing and breaking down tasks. Or because you love puzzles!
Some people who code are very into the Maths of it, but coding is actually very like any other writing. You need to communicate clearly and precisely (with a computer and with people who’ll use your code), and you need to read what is actually written (not what you meant to write) and to avoid ambiguity. So folk from all sorts of background can enjoy learning to code.
What will participants gain from attending the Day of Code?
They’ll learn just how easy it can be to build something real with code, and hopefully start thinking about how they could use those principles in their daily jobs. And they’ll learn how to make mistakes, identify the cause and fix them – which is one of the most important skills for real developers! Most importantly, they’ll start to learn a new way of thinking. You can’t learn a whole new language in a day, but you can open a window to a new world. I hope that participants will leave with their heads buzzing, and will find themselves thinking weeks or months later, “Hey, here’s another thing we could easily improve.”
How important do you think coding skills will be for the publishers of the future?
If we want change to work for us, we need to be able to communicate clearly with the people who’ll be building that change. Having some folk move from publishing to tech is useful, but what we really need is plenty of people within publishing who can translate between publishing and technology. That means we need people who know what computers are good at (and bad at), and why. Who can analyse our existing products and processes in terms of what computers might do for them. And who can imagine what might be possible with tech beyond our existing products and processes. All of that requires a familiarity with code, with data and with how the two fit together. The Day of Code is all about taking real publishing data and turning it into an application, so it’s going to be a great start!
Apply for your ticket to the Day of Code 2019 at https://2019.dayofcode.co.uk/ (closing date for applications: 11 October).