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National Coding Week 2015 – older people can learn programming skills too

National Coding Week took place from 21 to 25 September 2015 with a programme of activities helping adults in the UK master technical skills

National Coding Week ran from 21 to 25 September 2015, aiming to teach coding and digital skills to adults across the UK.

Those wanting to get involved joined in events and learned skills online or face-to-face to encourage more people to step across the digital divide.

Co-founder Richard Rolfe said he thought of the initative after he left teaching to recover from a serious illness.  

In a meeting with an ex-student who was running a web development business, Rolfe was left feeling as thought technology was only for “younger people”.

“I wasn’t into coding and all that kind of stuff, and I thought: If I’m 50 or so, can I learn these skills?” Rolfe explained.

But after researching around the subject area, Rolfe found the skills gap was soon to become a skills chasm, and children were the only ones being trained to fill it.

“There were lots of jobs that were unfilled and projections about them increasing within the technology space – particularly in coding and programming.” Rolfe said.

All of the efforts were going into teaching children, older people were being written off.” 

After teaching himself coding through online tutorials in 2013, Rolfe wanted to teach unemployed or older people those skills.

Teaching skills, building confidence

He and his ex-student co-founder ran a trial week, after which 80% of the attendees went into a job in coding or related fields – so Rolfe decided to run the event again.

“Yes, coding and technology are important for the future generation – but what about those people who are adults who think they’ve missed out?” said Rolfe.

“We try and tease them into this digital world, build their confidence, give them some skills and then if they want to know more that’s great; if they don’t want to know more, that’s fine too.”

The scheme has attracted a lot of support from teachers, many of whom feel they have not received the training they need. “The children are running away with their learning,” leaving parents and teachers “disenfranchised" as they fail to keep up, said Rolfe.

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He said the number and variety of people taking part in the week surprised him. The mix included teachers, parents, the unemployed and business managers.

“In the past, business leaders have felt embarrassed to ask questions with regards to digital,” Rolfe said.

He said the lack of digital skills higher up in organisations often leads to business leaders opting for outsourcing contracts.

“If they don’t know anything about digital or coding or technology, or analytics or big data, then they’re going to miss opportunities in the global economy,” Rolfe said.

Digital literacy for wide range of careers

National Coding Week events used languages from CSS to JavaScript, but Rolfe pointed out that a technical background could lead to many other career paths – such as in marketing, design or team leadership.

“I don’t think coding is necessarily where the future is,” said Rolfe.

“You need teams of creative people who aren’t afraid of technology.”

Rolfe said he plans to use case studies from the events to inspire people who weren't interested in the coding side of a digital career, but need “wider digital literacy skills”.

“We want people exposed to it – but they need to find a route because digital encompasses so many routes, and you don’t have to be stuck down just one, but understanding coding at the core is important.” said Rolfe.

In 2014 the initiative attracted over 1,300 interactions online, was hashtagged on Twitter more than 155 times and written up in more than 30 articles. This year was even bigger.

In 2016, Rolfe wants to involve more libraries, more adults from school communities and expand into the US and Australia.

“We are seeing the effects of last year’s national coding week now and next year we’ll have an even bigger caseload of people that have changed their lives as a result.” Rolfe said.

“We want this to be a movement that says: Older people can learn these skills too.”

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