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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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I hope I'm still coding at 50 :)
Sounds like a great initiative. It may be more difficult for some who didn't grow up around computers and smart phones, but I know many older people who I'm sure have the technical aptitude to pick up some coding skills.
I'm 51 today and have recently started to code. There are so many free resources available to help you learn. At the moment I'm focussing on Apple using Swift2 and the development environment Xcode because it provides an integrated way to create useful and interesting apps. My biggest problem is time as I also run my own business but I absolutely agree with the idea that "older" people should learn as well as kids.
I was lucky enough to have had a wonderful first job in IT, working for the Ministry of Defense and industrial and military based companies for 8 years as a systems integrator, and a contract with the Fire and Rescue service to, after having paid 5 grand up front, to pay for learning IT skills, on a London based course mainly in Hardware break fixing, something I regret, because I already knew the basics of hardware building and fixing, I can't help but feel that its initiative would have assisted me too, having reached the age of 53, i feel sometimes that after attending some 200 interviews, after redundancy, there is certainly a "he's far too old" feel to these. I feel that had I had some coding experience I would be far more successful, yes the age barrier thing will always exist, but I would be able to offer so much more to a potential employer. Would love to attend any future events, the nearest I got to coding has been dabbling with Java Script, a bit of Visual Basic, and coding small games for the ZX Spectrum and commodore C64. I cheated and used a book, but it was all good experience. It's so demoralizing, sat at home for 6 months, (obviously attending interviews) No JSA, because i felt guilty for claiming, but I had an opportunity, felt I was just a passenger in a tech firm, felt guilty and that I was just being paid for "seat warming" so i foolishly left, and regret it, not eligible for claims now, job market is slowly starting up again though. All the best, Martin (Portsmouth area)