Is Coding The Next Blue Collar Job?

Episode 20

In this episode of The Stretch Goals Podcast, Scott and I are going to be talking about is coding the next blue collar job.

Find us on Twitter @The_Scott_Davis or @RobDickersonJr

Transcript

Robert: In this episode of The Stretch Goals Podcast, Scott and I are going to be talking about is coding the next blue collar job.

Scott: I’m just going to go ahead and say no. This is The Stretch Goals Podcast where each week we’ll share insights and lessons learned based on our experiences as entrepreneurs. We’ll challenge you to create ambitious goal as you start and grow your business. I’m your host, Scott Davis.

Robert: I’m Robert Dickerson. You tweeted out the article I think on Wired and then I read it.

Scott: I didn’t.

Robert: Actually we both didn’t finish it, but … There’s an article on Wired talking about how programming is the new blue collar job and that manufacturing and construction, some of these other jobs that were blue collar jobs are now changing into where someone that writes code can be a blue collar worker. They have really good salaries now. What is your thought on that?

Scott: Let’s look at the definition of blue collar jobs first. I just pulled it up. A blue collar is a working class person historically defined by hourly rates of pay and manual labor. A blue collar worker refers to the fact that most manual labors at the turn of the century wore blue shirts which could hold little dirt around the collar without staining out. From the literal sense of it, most programmers don’t wear blue shirts. That aside, there’s a heavy emphasis on manual labor and I think a lot of people associate that with like lifting heavy things and working with tools and things like that. If we break it down to what the article is saying, it was basically saying that anybody can code, right? Let’s define that.

Just basically writing syntax to make a computer do something and that’s absolutely true. There’s something that’s sort of missing I think from that article which is there’s problem solving, there’s logic, there’s experience and there’s architecture. If you don’t understand how to architect an entire software application from the ground up, that doesn’t make you … It doesn’t fit in with what they’re saying, right? Yeah, you can have a whole bunch of people just writing code, but they’re not writing great software. I think that’s where the disconnect is, right?

Robert: Well, you could have fewer people that are architecting and defining what those people need to write, right? Not necessarily everyone that writes code needs to understand the full architecture. I mean you need those people that are just able to write code and actually implement things. I do agree that that’s a skill and I actually think that it’s a skill. We have a lot of these bootcamps and things that are coming out teaching people how to code. Talking about in schools, people learning how to code. I do think that writing code is a skill that everyone needs to learn. Not only for the logic, understanding the logic and how to think about writing code, but also because writing code and software development is integrated now into so many jobs, right?

It’s kind of something that you have to know how to do even if it’s just a little bit to get a job and to kind of advance.

Scott: Well, let’s liken it to this. Let’s liken it to this, right? You and I play guitar, but we’re not in a rock band, right? Just because everybody knows how to write code doesn’t mean that they should be a software developer. Basically what this article I think is suggesting and keep in mind I didn’t read the whole thing is that just because you went to a coding bootcamp or popped a book or an article online that you’re now a programmer. I personally don’t think that that’s true.

Robert: Yeah, I mean it’s like anything, right?

Scott: Practice makes perfect.

Robert: Yeah, exactly. I don’t want to I guess tell people that they can’t learn how to code because I think it’s important that everyone gives an opportunity to learn. I think coding is just like any skill like being an artist, being a musician. It’s something that you have to practice, you have to learn. Some people just innately have that ability, a better ability than other people. While you can get better … I’ve seen people that have tried to write code and spent years and years and they just can’t think in that mindset, the logical mindset, to be able to do it. While I think everyone should be given an opportunity, not everyone necessarily is going to be a great developer. There’s kind of a scale.

Scott: Yeah, I agree with that. I think everybody should learn how to program. I love teaching people how to program. It’s one of the most enjoyable things that I get out of what I do. I think it’s like you said I mean there’s a difference. What this article is sort of implying is it’s a headline grabber. Let’s take a segment and get a whole bunch of people who are in tech space that can read this article. The implication is that everybody’s going to be a programmer and then there’s going to be no senior programmers because all these people are the same level which when that happens, that brings down salary levels. Then there’s a salary gap between actual senior software engineers and what they’re calling blue colla programmers.

The gap is going to be significant and then that’s going to cost other problems. People are going to complain about salary discrepancies and things like that. It brings up this whole can of worms that this article’s sort of like skims around.

Robert: Yeah. Yeah. It definitely is a headline grabber. I think there’s a lot of articles out there now that are worried and talking about how artificial intelligence and AI are going to be taking jobs from a lot of people if you think about … If we have self-driving cars, does that take away taxis? Does that take away Uber’s and people’s ability to make money? I feel like over time that other jobs have come up that people can take. Now the problem is is that the entry level to those positions now has gone up, right? It’s not easy to get started especially if you have to have like a programming knowledge to even become involved in that job.

That’s the part that kind of worries me is that the skill set required and the ongoing learning process to even stay in these jobs is becoming so high, right?

Scott: Yup. Well, I think you hit one key point and that’s for every industry that’s automated, there’s another industry that now becomes essential. There’s a huge need. When the Industrial Revolution started and people started making engines to automate things, it created new jobs. It created the need for mechanics and for people to maintain those systems and everything. The same thing applies here. It is going to eliminate jobs through AI and automation, but that creates a whole nother need. What’s interesting if we think about that is if what this article says is true and we now have a greater need for AI, that means the senior engineers and architects, they’re needed on those AI and neural network platforms because of the algorithmic needs and the logic and the experience involved.

Then that creates a gap where we need a lot of brute force people entering code at the lower skill level. Basically the architect’s saying, “Hey, I have a whole bunch of stuff I don’t have time for. I need this team to go write all this stuff while I focus on the super in-depth, heavy logic for the automation aspect.” Actually what the article says, if what you’re also saying is true, then it kind of fills the gap. It actually solves itself.

Robert: Well, I think there’s actually … If you think about blue collar programmers, there are places that they can be very useful. If we’re talking about unit testing, writing test for code, that’s really a big area that the person doesn’t necessarily have to understand the code that’s written. They just have to be able to write test to validate that the code works. Debugging code. The other thing is on … This week I’ve spent a bunch of time migrating code to a new swift version, right? It’s these mindless almost tasks of updating libraries and things where you have to understand how things work, but you’re just going through the motions. Sometimes I think why haven’t we gotten rid of some of that stuff. If we have AI, why can’t it figure out the errors in our code and just fix it for us.

Scott: If Xcode’s smart enough to tell you that …

Robert: Just fix it.

Scott: Just fix it for me man. I agree. Eventually we will get there, right? We will eventually.

Robert: If you know that it’s a problem, just fix it.

Scott: The question really becomes if you think about it will artificial intelligence become great enough to write its own software? To an extent, I absolutely think that that’s totally possible. We write a program that tells the computer to write a program, right? The problem is is there’s going to be limits because the computer would have to learn. There’s a learning piece that needs to come in there. The computer would still wouldn’t know what to write. You have to know like I need an input here or I need an output here. It doesn’t know that yet, but it could it evolve over 50 years to do that by itself? Absolutely. That’s kind of fascinating, but again, somebody had to write that initially.

It can’t come from nothing. It’s like the evolution of the universe, right? It’s got to start somewhere.

Robert: What do you think about these coding bootcamps? That was one area I want talk to you about because …

Scott: I think they’re great. I think they’re great. I think everybody should learn how to program. The only thing that does cause a problem is if somebody comes out of a coding bootcamp with very little experience, but they represent themselves as having more experience than they do. Say they released an app to the App Store and got 50 downloads. Well, they’ve got an app in the App Store. Now they’re going out representing themselves as a freelancer or maybe they started a company and the problem is they’re going to be asking for rates that maybe their skillset doesn’t deserve. Then when that happens that creates salary and pricing discrepancies in the industry which then puts pressure on the people like you and I who do this for a living.

Robert: I think the coding bootcamp I think are a great idea. You still need that experience to building apps which is what you’re saying. You need to apply what you’re learning in those bootcamps to be able to build things. That’s the way you’re really going to learn is like over time building things. I really see this gap between higher education, people that are learning software development and when they come out their skills don’t necessarily match up with what companies are looking for and building things. These bootcamps are kind of providing a way for people to get into those industries. I think that’s great, but I feel like there’s going to be more of a shift where people are going to be … When I was in college, I did a co-op.

Basically what I did is I went to school for a semester and then I went work for like two semesters, right? That was the best thing because I could take stuff from school and directly apply it and then come back to school and take more courses in things that I was interested in and skills that I needed to improve on. I feel that learning is a lifelong skill, but it’s going to move more towards that where you’re kind of an ongoing learning maybe as opposed to just like all this four years of upfront or two years of upfront learning and then you start. You don’t have experience during that time.

Scott: Yeah, I would hire … I may have said this already before on a podcast, but I would hire someone who’s got two years of profession experience over someone who has a four year degree just because of the differences between what you learn in school which is a book …

Robert: Theoretical.

Scott: It’s theoretical versus real world problem solving, real world application of what you’re doing. I’m not discrediting by any means college degrees. They’re fabulous. I think that there’s something to be said for experience. Ideally you find somebody who’s got experience and a degree which is something that you and I were able to capitalize on. I was co-opting straight out of high school doing the school and software development for the government. I was lucky and you took advantage of that too. Having experience and the degree is very helpful.

Robert: I’ve hired people that don’t have degrees in software, but they spent a lot of time learning on their own. Those people are really good because they’re self-motivated. They’re eager to learn. They want to take it all in. They’ve kept up to date on like the latest trends. They’re great. They could just jump in and they understand where we’re going and they could just hit the ground running. I don’t have to get them up to speed on a lot of stuff.

Scott: Maybe that’s what this article is saying though in a way without actually saying it is that you don’t need … There’s so much information online and so much passion and things like that in digital world. We’re all used to thinking a different way than we did 20 years ago. Maybe it’s saying that people can become programmers in the workforce without having to get a college degree. Like you just said, some of the best people I’ve ever worked with are those people who don’t have a degree in software development. They’re passionate. They learn quick. They’re going out on their own and learning these things. Being assertive. That’s really all you need and they’re getting experience doing it.

Robert: I think the degree shouldn’t be a limiting factor to bring these people on, right? I think that’s really good.

Scott: My only thing though is like I said people who are coming out of code camps I’ve see it numerous times over the last year where someone comes out of a code camp. They misrepresent where their skillsets really are. Then you get into the project and it turns out that they don’t really know much. It could have been solved just by saying, “Yeah, I don’t have a lot of experience,” and that’s fine because if I want to find somebody who is maybe cheaper or a little wet behind the ear, I fully accept that. I take them under my wing and show them what to do, right? If you’re representing yourself as something more senior and you’re not, that’s a problem. Like I said, I’ve seen it multiple times over the course of the last 12 months. Not just myself, but people I know have also experienced it.

It’s one of those things that I’m just cautious about because I think that the bootcamps and things like that are sort of creating that type of environment. That applies to any industry. You could have a certification in accounting. It doesn’t make you a CPA if you have some minor certification. You know what I mean? It doesn’t just apply to software development. It’s a problem that the world has had before.

Robert: Do you think those people they think they know more than … They think they’re more experienced than they actually are because they came … Because I’ve kind of had the same sort of experience where I hired someone that came out of a bootcamp. They were a junior developer. They just kind of fell flat on their face because they just didn’t have the experience. I didn’t necessarily feel like they misrepresented themselves. They were able to talk the talk and they seemed confident. It’s just maybe they thought they knew more than they actually did. You know what I mean? It was like something like that.

Scott: There’s so many things to learn, right? On these bootcamps it only touches on so many things. It’s practical examples of how to code. They’re real world problems that they solve, but a lot of times you aren’t integrating with third party REST APIS. You’re not creating databases. You’re not creating real time web socket connections to maintain real time data. There’s all these things that we do which they can get to if they’ve got the experience and they’re exposed to. In a 12 week course, a 12 week bootcamp, you’re not going to …

Robert: Yeah, you can’t get to all that.

Scott: There’s no way you can cover all of those. You might be able to cover a couple of them, but it still doesn’t cover everything. Maybe what happens as you get into a real world environment and there’s all these big scary things, databases and APIs and frameworks and unit testing and then you just kind of become overwhelmed. I think if you’re exposed to those things slowly over time, you develop confidence in those areas and you become a senior developer eventually. That brings up a question, in your mind Rob, it’s a three part question, what do you think is the amount of experience for a junior developer, a mid-level developer and a senior developer? What’s the number of years that you think in your mind?

Robert: I mean junior would be like maybe two years something like that or maybe just coming out of school with a degree. I mean senior I really think around like eight to 10 years something like that probably. In between that would be like a mid-level engineer. I feel that a lot of the people want to jump up to senior level engineer immediately, right? It’s like they come out of school and they say, “I’m a senior level engineer. I know. I’ve done all this.”

Scott: I got the degree. Yeah, I’m a senior engineer. That’s why I asked the question. I asked the question very specifically for that reason because people are trying to jump rungs within the experience threshold.

Robert: I even felt like that … It’s funny now looking back because I remember when I came out of school I was like, “I have a degree. You should hire me. All these companies should be trying to get me.” Not trying to flaunt myself or anything, but it’s just I felt like I should have those opportunities. Then now looking back like I didn’t know anything. I had no real world experience. I worked at a pool during the summer and I come out of school and I expect this big time job. It’s kind of funny now looking back. When I’m hiring people now it’s kind of I think differently. I think, “Well, what experience do they have? What have they built? What can I go look at to kind of gage their talent?”

People are taking a risk on me by just talking to me and interviewing me. Hopefully it worked out for those companies that hired me.

Scott: I always felt like I had something to prove. I was always very aware of like a junior developer … This is generally speaking industry standard. A junior developer’s one to three years of experience. Depending on who you are and how you assert yourself, it could be two years. Mid-level is somewhere between maybe three to seven, eight years and then senior is anything beyond that. When I was coming up in the industry, I was very aware of that. I was never trying to jump rungs, right? I always trying to … It’s like, “Let me absorb as much as I can during my first three years, so that when it’s time to qualify so to speak that I’m recognized as someone who is now a mid-level developer based on my experience.” I was never that guy like, “I’m a senior engineer.”

Obviously all software developers think they know everything. I was very conscious of that fact of what the industry sort of bucketizes junior, mid and senior level developers into.

Robert: Most of the companies I’ve worked for over my career is like before you can move up, you actually need to be doing the work in the next level, right? If you’re a junior level person and you want to be a mid-level engineer, you need to be taking on those responsibilities as a junior level person and show that you can do it. Try to stretch yourself. If you’re a mid-level, try to stretch yourself and start doing things that senior level developers are doing. Because then you’re able to go in and say, “Hey, I have this experience. I’ve been doing this.” It makes it a lot easier to kind of move up the ladder. A lot of people have talked to you nowadays. They want to make that jump immediately. I think it was good the way you went about it is because you learned as much as you could.

I feel like if blue collar coding is going to be successful that companies have to have a process to onboard people and a process to mentor people through the cycle, right? If they come in out of a bootcamp or if they come in with a little bit of experience, they’re not giving responsibilities that exceed kind of their skill level. They’re given opportunities where they can be successful and that they can learn and grow and kind of stair-step their way up through the company.

Scott: Sure. I mean it’s like anything. It absolutely is just like if you have a green horn on your crab boat, he doesn’t know anything. If you’ve got a green horn on your development team, it’s the same thing. There’s implied risks there. You get what you paid for. You need to put time into this employee to make them better. They’re not going to get better if you don’t help them. That mentoring process is critical. That applies to mechanics and fast food workers. It applies everywhere. This isn’t a new problem. I still just think that the headline of the blue collar coding is a bit of an attention grabber deliberately, but there is some merit to it.

I do think that specifically what it’s saying is that people are coming out of these bootcamps and going straight into the workforce which is true to an extent. I don’t think that you can replace experience and just overall knowledge of someone who’s got more time in the industry. The last thing I want to say about it is I don’t think just because you have eight years of software development experience that makes you a senior developer. A senior developer is someone who can lead, mentor, see the solution for an entire software project before it even exist. That’s a senior developer.

Being able to architect everything, understanding the intricacies of the entire process, being a good role model for the developers underneath. That’s what a senior developer is. It’s not just your eight years of experience.

Robert: I found that years really doesn’t matter a lot of time. It’s like a gage to kind of figure out where you should be. It’s based on your work. What have you done? What can you do? I feel like that there’s a lot of negative press these days about jobs going away, but I feel like there’s a lot of opportunities out there. I like this article just because I feel like coding is an area for opportunity for a lot of people. If you take the right steps and you learn how to code and you go to these bootcamps, I do think it will open up opportunities for you in a number of different jobs. It might be in the industry you’re already working. You might see new opportunities. It might not be sitting in the keyboard everyday writing coding.

It just might be understanding or being able to engage with programmers, understand what they’re doing. That might be enough to lead teams and things like that where you don’t necessarily have to be writing code everyday.

Scott: Sure. What if you’re a stock trader and … There’s probably a better term for that. Financial advisor. I don’t know. A stock trader. Let’s say you trade stocks on Wall Street and you just want a way to automate some aspect of your job where you’re making micro transactions throughout the day. If you learned programming, you could automate some of that and so you’ve got knowledge of the industry that a regular software developer wouldn’t have. Now you’re just taking a skill like writing a script to automate something that you learned from a coding bootcamp and applying to your job. It doesn’t mean you’re a software developer, but it means that you’ve applied what you learned to what you do. That is extremely attractive. I think everybody could benefit from that.

Robert: I feel like people are just going to have to learn those skills because the jobs are going to require them to do things, right?

Scott: It’s true.

Robert: Automation is going to go into part of every job. You’re going to need those skills because there’s just not enough time in a day for you to manually do things. You’re going to have to harness the power of AI and computers and things. You’re going to need to interface some ways with those and writing code is the way that you interface.

Scott: Absolutely.

Robert: Unless we have voice activated and we could just tell people what to do.

Scott: I for one don’t see voice as the next big input mechanisms.

Robert: I don’t either. It’s too slow. My car has voice activated controls. What is it? A 2006. I never use it because I can turn the dial to adjust the temperature faster than some AI can tell me, “Are you sure you want it at this temperature?”

Scott: I do use it on my Apple Watch to send a quick message or, “Hey, Siri, how old is Michael Jordan,” kind of thing. I don’t think it’s got a broad scope. Speaking of which, my Siri just picked up. It just said, “Hey, how old is Michael Jordan?” Well, anyway.

Robert: I feel like the next evolution not to get too off the topic now, but the next evolution is not me telling something what to do. It already knows. Yes, it already knows what I want. It knows that I’m going to work. It knows that I’m going to the store. It can already put that stuff in. I don’t want to tell my lights to come on. They should know that I’m in the room and it comes on or they should set up based on my preferences. That’s really where I feel like things are going not necessarily … It’s an incremental step to get there. This is a cool little feature that people can go around and talk to things.

Scott: Exactly. See, I knew that you wanted that. I’m ahead of you. I’m just kidding.

Robert: You already knew I want …

Scott: I already knew it.

Robert: Is coding the next blue collar job? I think we talked a little bit about how it could be, right? I mean coding is integrated into all kinds of different things. It provides a lot of opportunities and I feel like it’s going to be embedded in more and more jobs. If this is something that you’re interested in, take the plunge. Go to a bootcamp. Because I feel like it will be … In the long run it’ll pay off for you to learn the skills even if you’re not necessarily writing code.

Scott: Yeah.

Robert: Hope you enjoyed this episode. We’ll talk to you next week. Thanks for listening to this episode of The Stretch Goals Podcast. You can access the show notes for this episode and listen to other episodes by heading over to StretchGoals.fm.

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Robert Dickerson

@RobDickersonJr

Robert Dickerson is the Founder and CEO of Mapout a mobile learning platform that uses video courses to educate customers and train employees. He helps companies develop and launch their products.

Scott Davis

@The_Scott_Davis

Scott Davis is the Founder and CEO of MobX, a mobile development software agency. He has 20 years of experience developing software for Government, Finance, Sports and the Telecommunications industry.