Why don’t more Europeans know how to code? In the past, we’ve debated why Europe is lagging behind the US in terms of tech start-ups, and asked what can be done to encourage a more entrepreneurial attitude among young Europeans. But could part of the problem be that too many Europeans see coding as too difficult to learn, and only really useful for an elite group of super smart geniuses?

The week of 13-17 October 2014 is EU CodeWeek, an initiative effort aimed at encouraging more people to code, and launched by EU Digital Agenda Commissioner Neelie Kroes’ group of “Young Advisors“.

The organisers argue that it has “never been easier to make your own app, build your own robot, or invent flying cars” and that there is so much creative potential in Europe waiting to be unlocked, if only more Europeans knew how to use the tools at their disposal.

So, this week, they are asking people to join Europe CodeWeek by organizing a coding event in their city or helping “spread the vision of CodeWeek” as an EU Code Week Ambassador for their country.

Despite EU unemployment being eye-wateringly high, coders are in demand. In 2010, there were roughly half-a-million businesses in the EU focused directly or indirectly on coding (i.e. enterprises in the computer programming and consultancy sector). That translates to around 2.62 million jobs.

Coders work on everything from designing online multiplayer worlds, mobile applications and videogames to developing websites, payment systems and online security for companies. Every sector of the economy relies on coders – from manufacturing (e.g. designing 3D simulations to test and improve products) to healthcare (e.g. creating remote monitoring systems for patients, designing security and privacy for medical records, etc.).

We’ve put together an infographic below (click to enlarge) setting out some of the numbers, and including quotes from business leaders and artists talking about the importance of learning to code.


As part of our Debating Europe Schools project, we spoke to some students interesting in learning more. We took some of their questions to EU CodeWeek Ambassadors from across Europe, to see how they would respond.

First up, we started with a question from Beatrise, a student from the Kuldīgas Centra vidusskola in Latvia. She wanted to know if coding was really necessary for people who aren’t interested in computer science. To get a response, we spoke to Steve Clement, a professional hacker and EU CodeWeek Ambassador for Luxembourg.

We also took Beatrise’s question to Julie Cullen, a teacher and Irish Ambassador for EU Code Week. Did she think coding could benefit everybody, even if they weren’t planning a career in computer science?

Julie-CullenI think that computer coding can cross the spectrum of careers. So, for example, I’m a teacher of English and European Studies. I don’t teach coding, I don’t teach IT, I don’t teach computers. However, I do manage to incorporate coding into my classes when, for example, my students have to create their own website for an English project. So, even though I wasn’t teaching IT, I was able to incorporate coding into my classroom. And I think this cross-curricula approach is important. Rather than just saying “It’s only for computer science”, the truth is that everybody uses apps, everybody uses computers, so we should all know how they work and how to tell them what we want them to do.

Finally, we had a video question sent in from Rodrigo asking what skills are necessary to start learning computer coding:

We took this question to Spyros Blatsios, an IT teacher and Greek EU CodeWeek Ambassador. Here’s what he had to say:

spyros-blatsiosLearning to code really doesn’t really require many skills. Some basic math is necessary, but I think the most appropriate skill is logic. You need to understand programming logic, and that’s something you learn by trying. With time, you’ll get better and better. And that’s the only skill you need, nothing more than that.

Is coding for everybody? Could all Europeans benefit from learning how to code? Or would it only really help those interested in a career in coding? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policy-makers and experts for their reactions.


27 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. avatar
    Jaume Roqueta

    the use of the word geek is unfortunate… we are normal people.. .the rare people are the european comisionates who only motivate for money and power… you are the geeks not scientists, programers etc… we are normal people but the kind of culture of money you are impossing is making fool people adict to power to look as normal ones!.

    • avatar

      bien dicho !!!!!!!!!!

  2. avatar

    If we want to become more independent from US Corporations that are in bed with the NSA then we need to bring life into the European IT Sector, the best way to do this is by teaching more people how to code, we should start to teach children in secondary school how to code, this will give us the necessary young blood to achieve our IT goals.

    • avatar

      Not really, the undemocratic EU’s wet dream is a Euro-NSA (and a Euro-CIA, a Euro-FBI and a Euro-DHS and so forth).

    • avatar

      Ahh but then you can alays work in the Military Intelligence sector no?
      Also the job thing is great but some of them pay less tha Jobseeker’s Allowance
      And did you notice that up there it translates to roughly five jobs per business that equires I.T. SHOCK HORROR

  3. avatar
    Nando Aidos

    All citizens should learn to code. Coding involves algorithms and algorithms are an excellent problem solving paradigm. So, teach algorithms, teach a programming language (have a choice), and teach how to make code run in a machine. Great skills to have! Even if computers, as we know them, go away… algorithms will be with us.

  4. avatar
    Martin Unterholzner

    Well, as a programmer, I have learned from the past experience that coding is not for everyone. However, there is no other profession that is the right thing for everyone, neither.

    It is obvious, that Europe needs to catch up in the IT-business. Hence: Yes, more people should choose that profession. It is also a job, that is on the rise, i.e. there will be more available jobs in that field in the coming years.

    Even though it is not the right profession for everyone, everyone should learn some basic programming at school. Just as everyone learns to read and write, even if not everyone becomes a journalist or writes a book.
    Teaching programming at school would improve the skill level and could inspire a generation of programmers.

  5. avatar
    Sylvain Duret

    All citizens should learn, it’s a great challenge for research and developpement of our life in future days

  6. avatar
    Jan Skorich

    I’m 64 and I code – it is never too late to learn! But I agree with Martin Unterholzner, it is not for everyone. Some people find it daunting, or terribly boring. However, at least the basics at school are a must in today’s world.

    • avatar

      Yes; it’s good to see that there are online courses and things (sorry, vague) that help you learn the basics. I say that as a person who can’t code and hits the ctrl+alt+del keys whenever anything happens so I’m a hypocrite but… I agree :D

  7. avatar

    Typing (clored) gibberish might not be appealing enough for most PC users/software consummers considering bugs free WYSIWYG alternatives, but it’s not allways the case. Maybe lerning curve of C, C++, ObjectiveC, Java, MySQL, PHP, Python, Ruby, etc is too long. I’m not descouraging noboby to give it a try.

  8. avatar
    Deyan Savov

    Teaching math – OK, teaching very basic Discrete Math and set theory OK, even teaching pseudo code is OK! But learning syntaxis is of no use to anyone but very few! Second, coding is very different from software engineering, computer science, information Science or algorithms and neither should be mandatory!

    • avatar

      no but a few trial lessons should be. nd a talk with a teacher to illuminate the career paths… can’t hurt. we’re paying the taxes, why doesn’t the government do a referendummmmm

  9. avatar

    Everyone should learn to code! Coding enhances logical thinking and should be included in the school curriculum from elementary school! It’s proven everyday that coding can be fun to teach and even more fun to learn. When young children realize the potential they acquire when they learn how to code, the sky is the limit! One can only look around and see live examples of how coding is changing our lives everyday :-)

  10. avatar
    Alcuin Edwards

    I DO know how to Code. Thing is though it’s not something I want to do so I’ve not bothered to update my skills from C++, A86, and Pascal.

    • avatar

      omg Pascal, that sure brings back fond memories ^^
      Did you catch the old old days of Basic too?

  11. avatar
    Tarquin Farquhar

    01001110 01001111.

    01001110 01001111.

  12. avatar

    Talk about being behind the curve… sheesh!

  13. avatar

    As a programmer I strongly discourage normal people without real interest in programming to even bother learning it.
    It’s extremely painful to learn, complex algorithms are hard to understand and
    working hours are really stressful and demanding. You really NEED to enjoy it otherwise you will be miserable for the rest of your life.
    Tutorials with simple loops and helloworld examples is just a trick to attract people, in reality however it’s so much different and dull.
    Have fun debugging for the rest of the day/night and so on while other professions are already @home cooking/sleeping stress-free.

    I am satisfied at least with the salary but I can’t continue working many more years like that, not only me but pretty much EVERY programmer I know with the exceptions of some geeks that love that stuff.
    BTW from my class in university while I was still a student, around 250 people,
    half of them dropped the class, 25% working in other professions and the just rest are coders

  14. avatar

    oversaturating the mrket with coders will not solve unemployment just lower wages and give corporations more bargaining power.

    But…i guess… as a coder myself i want to “protect” my trade from new-comers.
    <—guilty :)

  15. avatar
    Jaume Roqueta

    maybe if the educational system is intended to produce workers not genious… this is why in the future everybody will know only what the big company whants to know

  16. avatar
    Kostas Karolemeas

    It is not just a matter of scarcity of developer resources. In a few years computer literacy will be about programming and processing information and not just word processing, spreadsheets and browsing the Internet. We should start from kids. Not only the 10+ year olds but younger ones, too. Even those in the 1st grade of elementary school. Not only the “elite” that is very familiar with technology and might eventually become programmers but ALL of them!

  17. avatar

    You might not have to be a genius code, but from your article and visuals, apparently you have to be a guy…. Good luck getting the other half of the population on board #elephantintheroom

  18. avatar

    Everyone at least deserves a chance to code but someone needs to teach them whether it be friends or family it’s always kind. This applies to everyone – this is in message to the previous comment by Charlie. Girls you can code too! All you need to do is try even if you don’t want to be a nerd at least TRY! You don’t have to be inherently good with computers to be a genius. This is my quote of the day “You learn more from failure than from success. Don’t let it stop you. Failure builds character.” #TryHarder

  19. avatar

    Many people need help with coding whether they be friends or family it’s kind to help. This is also in message to Charlie’s comment – Girls can code too! They just need encouragement in the right subjects. Code and not be afraid if school friends call you a nerd or loser code at home, at least please try.When someone needs help people SHOULD help not nudged or urged to help. Someone may help you find a path, it is your decision to follow it to glory or to destruction.

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