Pop culture has never been kind to coders. Frequently portrayed as basement-dwelling, lonely male geniuses who, when not designing the digital infrastructure of the future, opt to remain hunched over their laptops playing Dungeons and Dragons rather than engaging with the outside world.
While overcoming unhelpful societal stereotypes might not be the job of Hollywood blockbuster filmmakers, the continued portrayal of coders-in many mainstream TV shows and movies-has left its mark.
A survey conducted as part of a wider study entitled, “The Stereotypical Computer Scientist: Gendered Media Representations as a Barrier to Inclusion for Women” from the University of Washington, found that a majority of respondents perceived computer scientists to ‘lack interpersonal skills and be singularly focused on computers.’
What many fail to realise, however, is just how central teamwork is to the successful design of any new technology. Nevertheless, Curriculum Lead at Digital Skills for Coding and Technology, Daniel Griffin, says the number of new coders entering the digital economy continues to be hampered by misguided stereotypes. “Teamwork is a major part of any programme offered at Digital Skills but is particularly important in mobile and web development programmes,” he says.
Because of this, the curriculum is so designed in order to equip participants not only with a greater understanding of the technology in question, but also with various transferable skills.
“For me it’s not just about the technology but all the other useful skills gained,” says Griffin who has worked at the heart of the mobile development app industry for several years-an industry where he says flexibility and adaptability are highly prized. “Success is all about being able to work with others and adapt to change,” he says. “So we tackle this not just at the curricular level but also by fostering soft skills. That’s really where the benefit lies in our programmes.”
According to Griffin, computer programming has another image problem it needs to overcome: the more general belief among those with no prior experience that coding is extremely difficult. A little like mathematics, many people just convince themselves of their numerical shortcomings without even giving it a try.
“The first time you look at coding language on a screen it does look weird,” says Griffin. “It’s not a natural way for humans to think about communication. That’s why all training in our mobile and app development modules is based on first principles.” Regardless of whether you come with prior experience or are a complete beginner, all participants start by building a common understanding-a common technical vocabulary-associated with mobile and app development.”
It would be unwise to wait for the ‘Michael Bays’ of this world to call time on perpetuating unrealistic portrayals of coders in Hollywood blockbusters. They’ll be milking the computer geek stereotype for a long time to come. However, given how central digital skills-like coding language proficiency-have become in all industries across the economy, those of us living in the real world have a responsibility to allay any fears or misunderstandings people may have.