Article by Ruth Suehle, director, community outreach, open source program office, Red Hat

Computer Programmer

The IT sector – especially software development – is one of the fastest growing industries in the world.

While this is becoming increasingly challenging for companies desperately seeking IT specialists, it is proving to be a great opportunity for prospective applicants. With programming skills in their pockets, many new job and career opportunities are open to them – even without a degree in computer science.

Due to the increasing digitization in companies, mastering one or more programming languages is becoming an increasingly important skill. And this not only applies to the IT industry. The service sector, finance, automotives, mechanical engineering, logistics and numerous other industries are also desperately looking for employees with programming skills. Anyone who is willing to learn how to program can advance their own career in a short time and thus open the doors to a new professional endeavor.

Using the pandemic for digital training

In December 2020, Red Hat partnered with market research firms YouGov and Sifo to survey more than 30,000 people across Europe to find out how they spent the extra free time they gained from the lockdown restrictions. The focus was on whether people had used the ten months for their digital training. The results were surprising: to qualify for a new job, most of the respondents (one in 20) chose computer programming or software development as a new skill. Interest was significantly higher among Generation Z: more than one in ten respondents aged 18 to 24 invested their free time in computer programming. Equally interesting is the fact that the majority had no technical background. For example, 79 percent of the new coders had not previously worked in a technology environment, and 71 percent do not have a STEM degree.

“Learning by doing” is the key to success

As the study shows, computer programming and software development are seen as important skills for finding a new job or making a career. But it’s a skill that goes beyond that: 52 percent of those who learned programming saw it purely as a hobby. Contrary to what some may assume, open source communities and projects are not just relevant to developers. They involve people from all walks of life, including writers, artists and designers. For example, there are many open source projects for the 18 percent of respondents who have acquired new artistic and craft skills. This ranges from the FreeSewing platform for customized sewing patterns to software for art, 3D printing, photography or music, and Ink/Stitch, an open-source extension to Inkscape for machine embroidery.

There are various options available for learning programming. Currently, the best-known variants for further training as a coder or software developer are certainly online courses and tutorials. Red Hat, for example, offers numerous free training courses and has also entered into partnerships with organizations such as EdX to support students virtually in self-study. And open source communities such as the Fedora Project are a useful resource for people who are just learning to program: they can learn from the others who share their knowledge and experience.

Digital natives lack technical know-how

Even young children are fascinated by computer games and the supposedly endless expanses of the Internet. However, the competence of digital natives is mostly limited to pure usage: children and teenagers often know how to use application programs and smartphone apps, but not how to create them or how they function technically. Programs developed especially for children offer even elementary school students the opportunity to learn the principles of software development in a playful way and to try their hand at their first programs. With a project called Co.Lab, Red Hat introduces 11-to-13 year-old girls to the principles of open source and thus to a world of technology and collaboration that they might not otherwise have considered. The students learn how to solve problems and develop new ideas together to create something unique.

Learning to program does not require a degree in computer science. On the contrary, there are Red Hat associates who taught themselves to develop and then decided to change careers. Hardly any group is currently being courted by companies as strongly as graduates who know how to deal with new and complex technologies. Those who can program understand the language of the future.

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