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Are We Becoming Blue-Collared Workers?

February 12th, 2017

Are coders the next blue-collared job? This is the hypothesis Clive Thompson puts forward in his thought-provoking Wired piece The Next Big Blue-Collar Job Is Coding. A knee-jerk reaction from IT professionals (read their comments) is to deny any possibility of that happening due to the years of training needed to get to their level. I certainly shared that first impression, partly because the term ‘blue-collared’ has negative connotations of being decidedly middle-class. I started thinking about this a bit more deeply when Clive wrote:

‘In Kentucky, mining veteran Rusty Justice decided that code could replace coal. He cofounded Bit Source, a code shop that builds its workforce by retraining coal miners as programmers. Enthusiasm is sky high: Justice got 950 applications for his first 11 positions. Miners, it turns out, are accustomed to deep focus, team play, and working with complex engineering tech. “Coal miners are really technology workers who get dirty,” Justice says.’

I associate coal miners as blue-collared workers, so is the gap between coal mining and code writing that wide? I used to think so, but barriers to entry are always getting lower. I know a few friends who have created iOS apps and SEO-friendly WordPress sites without four-year Computer Science degrees. Sure, they do not write the most ‘technically beautiful’ code or employ some best practices, but their software works! The ability to automate best practices by default will come sooner rather than later, e.g. Visual Studio’s F5 debug puts your app in a Docker container by default.

I agree with Clive’s long-term prediction that programmers are the next blue-collared job industry. We just need to look at trends such as treating servers as cattle instead of pets, and how the sharing/on-demand economy (Ubernisation, as one friend calls it) is disrupting many entrenched industries.

The question we must each answer is: Am I going to keep my head in the sand or am I going to elevate my skills beyond simple coding?

Photo credit: kate.fisher via Visual hunt / CC BY

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