I’m lucky. I learnt to code at the tender age of six, sitting at my sister’s BBC computer – and I loved it. But technology wasn’t as prevalent or as popularised then as it is now.
Fast-forward to the current day, and a new wave of coding initiatives are encouraging everyone to learn to code.
So, do freelancers need to learn to code? You may think that technology is irrelevant in your industry. Or you may think that learning to code is just too difficult.
But code isn’t scary. Once you get your head around some of the basic concepts behind it, it’s easy to learn.
And learning to code could help your freelance career in many different ways:
Be a problem-solving ninja
The best coders don’t just dive into a problem headfirst – they research, plan and then code.
That’s an analytical skill set that most freelancers need and it’s the basis of the theory behind coding – computer science.
Coding takes the theories and processes from computer science and applies them in a concrete way. It’s the daddy of transferable skill sets, and a highly relevant one in our increasingly digital world.
Save time and money
Every website and app you use has a block of code sitting behind it to make it work. A little coding knowledge can go a long way to help you set up and maintain your own online presence.
For example, when it comes to running your website, there are plenty of out-of-the-box solutions with a simple drag-and-drop interface. However, these sites often allow you to customise your website by tinkering with a bit of code.
You could, for example, tweak the layout and wording, change the colour scheme or (if you’re feeling particularly brave) add an exciting new feature.
The ability to tailor your online presence in this way can help you to stand out from the saturated online world of cookie cutter designs and meet the needs of your specific target audience. And that’s without the time and expense of bringing in an external developer every time you need to make a change to your site.
Understand new technologies
Technology is awash with ridiculous acronyms and jargon. It’s a pet hate of mine because such inflated terms put barriers between nontech audiences and impactful new technologies.
However, a little coding knowledge can help you to cut through the proverbial and understand the bearing that technology could have on your business.
Not only will this help you to keep ahead of the competition, it will also enable you to communicate more effectively and ask more informed questions when working with or for technical teams. If, for example, you’re a graphic designer then understanding code will help you to work more cohesively with a development team when designing a website.
Learn something new
As a freelancer, you have to constantly up-skill to keep pace with your industry – but why should this learning process be restricted to your own discipline?
Experimenting with a new skill often sparks creativity and new ideas for your business. It can open your eyes to a new world of possibilities – and networking opportunities too, as the coding community is incredibly active both online and offline.
You may even find an entirely new passion if you start tinkering with code. It’s an addictive hobby, where writing a few lines of code will allow you to see a real-world application spring into life.
Where to start
There are plenty of initiatives available to help you learn to code. Code.org is one of the most established, with a wealth of online tutorials and resources to point you in the right direction. There are also a range of free online platforms to help you learn to code, including: Codeacademy, Free Code Camp, Codewars, the Odin Project, HackerRank, edX and Upskill.
The #techmums initiative is another fantastic portal with the aim to empower women through technology. Its founder, Dr Sue Black OBE, said: “We don’t all need to become software developers, but it’s good for all of us to understand the basics of coding, so we can have an appreciation of how computers work.
“Learning coding, even at a really beginner level, can be extremely empowering because once you understand what’s going on you realise that it’s not magic and not too difficult to grasp.
“I love teaching our #techmums to code because they go from very apprehensive and feeling a bit dim to feeling excited and empowered in just a couple of hours. It’s incredible when it is taught the right way.”
You could also invest in a Raspberry Pi, which is a small and low-cost computer that helps people to learn to program. The Raspberry Pi Foundation, which is responsible for the Pi microcomputer, develops free resources and fun projects to help learners.
Clare Sutcliffe, who is co-founder of Code Club and the executive director of marketing and outreach for the Raspberry Pi Foundation, said: “Learning to code is a useful skill for lots of different careers. From creative industries like design and music production to engineering, medicine and architecture, learning to program can open doors for you to progress in your career or even make a move into an entirely new one.
Learning to code isn’t going to happen overnight. Much like freelancing, it’s a constant learning curve and changes occur at a rapid pace.
Yes, time is money as a freelancer. But, if you’re willing to dedicate some time and effort to code, it offers you a tangible way to grow your business, your skill set and your mind.
And (take it from the six and 36-year-old me), it’s great fun too.
By Gemma Church