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Why it’s the perfect time to learn to be a software engineer or data scientist

With lots of open technical jobs, companies should be investing in reskilling programs, and those interested in software engineering should attend a boot camp.

Why it’s the perfect time to learn to be a software engineer or data scientist
[Sourc photo: LanaStock/iStock]
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COVID-19 has led to widespread layoffs and job losses across industries, with hospitality, travel, and retail hit especially hard. After the pandemic, many of those jobs are not expected to come back.

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At the same time, hiring for technical roles in software engineering and data science has skyrocketed: Remote interviews for technical roles grew by 370% on HackerRank’s platform from 2019 to 2020 as companies pivoted business online. The shortage of talent to fill those roles continues in 2021—hiring managers are worried about recruiting enough developers this year.

With the right infrastructure, these are ideal conditions for a unique, more diverse generation of tech employees to emerge and fill the open positions. This can come to fruition in two main ways: companies offering technical reskilling programs for their own employees and outside talent, and people embracing nontraditional technical education options such as coding boot camps and self-teaching.

Internal reskilling programs thrive in a remote-first world

During COVID-19, most companies have found themselves needing more software developers and fewer employees on the ground or in service roles. They can use remote training tools to transition nontechnical employees into technical roles.

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With intuitive virtual tools, companies can still assess and train workers remotely during the pandemic. Amazon’s Tech Academy is a great example. The program, part of Amazon’s $700 million investment in upskilling, is open to any nontechnical employee (such as truck drivers and warehouse maintenance staff). It provides intensive reskilling with the goal of hiring students as Amazon software developers. Participants have gone on to be successful members of Amazon’s technical teams.

Twilio’s Hatch program is another that sources employees from nontech functions and teaches them to be production-grade engineers. It narrows in on training for specific skills the company needs, and it uses technical skill assessments broken up into different custom phases to gradually up-level employees and measure progress. The program is working: Twilio has offered jobs to 95% of Hatch graduates.

Programs such as these shape talent for company-specific challenges and processes through customized learning modules and assessments based on real environments. This approach allows companies to train engineers for their specific needs, avoiding the laborious and expensive process to source, interview, and ultimately hire these employees externally.

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Broader programs teach new technical skills to new audiences

The number of developer job openings is expected to grow by 22% in the next decade. To fill all those roles, companies will need to find and train promising talent outside their own walls. Now is the perfect time to do that: Recent research from Accenture found that nearly half of employees surveyed were considering a career change because of COVID-19.

Last summer, Microsoft harnessed that trend to launch a global skills initiative with free online courses that help people learn digital skills. The program focuses on reskilling for the people hit hardest by the pandemic economic downturn, including lower-income people, women, and underrepresented minorities.

Programs such as these help both companies and people seeking to refresh their skill sets for a new era, which is good for the economy long-term.

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Boot camp grads and self-taught developers have their moment

As people navigate the economic downturn, many are also embracing nontraditional technical education to help them change careers. Even before the pandemic, young developers in particular utilized nontraditional learning: In early 2020, 71% of Gen Z developers reported using YouTube to learn new coding skills. Now, coding boot camps are reporting historic enrollment surges, and there are even startups emerging to connect students to the right boot camp.

While recessions have historically resulted in people going back to school, two- or four-year degrees are too expensive for many right now. A short or informal technical education such as a coding boot camp or self-taught online course offers a direct path into a lucrative industry with many open roles. Historically, those roles have been concentrated in Silicon Valley and other tech hubs—but with many companies now remote, fewer people who take this path will have to worry about relocating for a job.

It’s an ideal moment for a new developer workforce with a broader set of backgrounds—and therefore broader ideas, philosophies, and expertise—to emerge. If we invest in the training and education to get there, we’ll see how that workforce can accelerate global innovation through more creative problem-solving.

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Vivek Ravisankar is the CEO and cofounder of HackerRank.