Empowering everyone to be a developer with continuous learning

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There’s never been a better time to be a developer. Companies today depend on great developers to drive customer loyalty, to build apps their customers love, to solve customer problems. But companies are experiencing a serious developer drought. According to Forrester Research we’ll need 500,000 more developers in the next decade.

The problems behind this massive skills gap are systemic. First, the cost of higher-ed continue to rise, so careers in tech are increasingly only available to those with significant financial resources. Second, the equality gap is costing us massive amounts of untapped talent. In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor, women make up only 18% of the tech workforce. While Hispanics and African Americans make up 2% and 1% respectively.

It has never been clearer that we need more developers. We need a system that reaches more people, is affordable for everyone, and offers continuing education. We need more diversity in the tech industry. We need to empower people of all races, genders, all backgrounds with an equal pathway to become a developer. We need to quench the developer drought.

How to do it? First, let’s look at what’s not working with the existing model.

Continuous learning, not continuous education

Education is of course essential for creating better people, better businesses, and a better society. But we think of “education” as that thing we have to get through to get on with our real lives. A rite of passage rather than a journey.

Maybe better to take a page from software development itself, which says the first version isn’t the best; it’s just the first. Excellence comes through iteration: testing and reworking and improving, constantly. We should think of education the same way: a process of learning that involves reworking existing skills and adding new ones and that is, crucially, happening constantly. Education should be more like iteration, a way for us to perpetually improve ourselves throughout life.

It would be impossible for most of us to quit our jobs and go back to school every time we wanted to learn new skills, of course. The costs alone! How to fill that skills gap, then? Where are we going to find 500,000 developers?

Create a system that is accessible for all

To fill the gap, we have to account for four things: cost, accessibility, gamification, ease

  • How do we keep education affordable enough that we will create a diverse generation of developers?
  • How do we structure it so that it doesn’t require a concentrated outlay of time?
  • How do we get people to like it enough to use it (and keep on using it)?
  • How do we make app development itself easier?

The first two can be addressed by using an online system. We’re already in exciting times for online learning; just look at the rise in popularity of online courses for everything from philosophy to neuroscience — and especially in the computer sciences. Online courses are cost-effective, making them accessible to a wider range of students, and self-directed, meaning students can work at their own pace. It also means they don’t have to interrupt their lives to go back to school. Equal access to education will lead to a larger and more diverse community of developers.

For the third question, that comes down to the designers of the courses themselves. At Salesforce we’ve thought a lot about this. Our goal with Trailhead is to give people the skills they need to land jobs in workforce of today and tomorrow– across sales, marketing, service, IT, software development and more. We make the lessons bite-sized and fun. We gamify the process of education (we’re a generation of gamers, after all) by turning it into a journey. Instead of a diploma at the end, you win badges along the way to mark (and celebrate!) your progress. Superbadges represent real-world business challenges so that employers know they’re hiring exactly what they need.

Designing courses to be modular means it’s easy to add a new course every time there’s an innovation in the programming arts. It means developers can always learn and, in that way, keep up with the state of the art. These courses are inexpensive (or even free!) and available to anyone with a bit of time and an internet connection, solving the diversity problem. They’re gamified, so they’re fun. And that takes care of the first three questions. But is that enough to fill the developer gap?

Reprogramming programming

Let’s look at that last question, “How do we make app development itself easier?” The answer is low-code. By embedding a lot of the rote and repetitive aspects of programming in an easy-to-use graphical interface, the barrier to entry for aspiring developers is lowered still further. There’s still coding, certainly, but a lot of the base-level heavy lifting can be handled by drag-and-drop features in low-code platforms. That will enable developers to learn even faster — to iterate better and better versions of themselves, and by extension, their careers.

Join the movement

I’m excited for this revolution. At Salesforce we have sparked a movement of Trailblazers – the innovators, pioneers and movers and shakers that have used technology to transform their careers. We have seen people go from salsa dance instructors, factory workers and hair dressers to successful technologists.  And what’s more impactful is that we are changing the face of the industry. But we are just getting started. This revolution hinges on changing the face of traditional education and traditional technology. When we accomplish that, we will be able to quench the developer drought and move towards true empowerment and equality for all.

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