Here's what gets lost in the 'future of work' debate

What automation means for how we should optimise 'learning to code'

At Tech Collective, we’ve been thinking a lot about the ‘future of work’.

Our thinking boils down to three main points:

  1. Automation makes technical and interpersonal skills more valuable;

  2. Self-study and bootcamps aren’t optimised for active, collaborative learning;

  3. Peer-driven learning is great, but difficult to set up, structure and follow-through on.

This post is all about defining and exploring that problem space. (In a future post, we’ll set out  how we propose to solve these  problems.)

Automation makes technical and interpersonal skills more valuable

In a world where up to 800 million jobs could be automated within 10 years, coding is a valuable skill. Recent events accelerating the world’s digital transformation only strengthen this imperative to become tech-literate.

However, what sometimes gets lost in this narrative is the fact that deeply human skills are also increasing in value. Skills like emotional intelligence, social influence and active learning are difficult to automate, and worth investing in as more things do become automated.

Self-study and bootcamps aren’t optimised for active, collaborative learning

As both technical and interpersonal skills increase in value, we should be looking for paths into tech that promote active and collaborative learning.

Good programmers write code that humans can understand. (Martin Fowler)

Unfortunately, existing paths into tech are badly optimised for this.

  1. Learning by yourself encourages isolated asocial behaviour rather than collaborative problem-solving; and

  2. Paid bootcamps encourage passive consumption of lectures rather than active learning with your peers.

This isn’t to say that neither option has value, nor that people who select these options aren’t sociable or self-starters.

This goes beyond an individual or an organisation, to the system at large. We need both technical and interpersonal skills, but the existing paths don’t optimise for this. For a given individual, we need to ask - how might we build a better path into tech for them?

  • Can we avoid risking the antisocial habits that might arise from isolated self-study?

  • Can we avoid risking the spoon-feeding habits that might arise from timetabled lectures?

What if you could learn to code without those risks whilst bridging the technical and interpersonal?

Peer-driven learning is great, but difficult to set up, structure and follow-through

By learning to code in a structured peer-driven environment, you can bridge the technical and interpersonal. This develops both the technical and interpersonal skills you need for success, flexibility and longevity in the future of work.

It’s effective, too - it’s been pioneered by remarkable institutions such as Founders and Coders, a tuition-free peer-driven bootcamp which has been running for a few years in London and (more recently) the Middle East.

A great peer group overcomes two of the main difficulties of studying by yourself: lack of support and self-discipline.

Indeed, the peer group structure is frequently cited by bootcamp graduates as the main (or even only) source of value:

So, if it’s a peer group that’s the primary source of a bootcamp’s value… why do people pay for bootcamps? Why don’t they just set up their own study groups?

There are, unfortunately, at least three difficulties with organically forming groups for peer-driven learning - they’re difficult to set up, structure, and follow-through on.

Paying for bootcamp is, at least sometimes, a rational way to overcome these difficulties.

1. Difficult to set up with the right people

Peer-driven learning rests on the qualities of the people involved.

  • Are they all collaborative?

  • Are they all communicative?

  • Are they all conscientious?

The ideal scenario is one where you already know the group of people involved, and have done for a while, and what you’ve seen over several years is behaviour consistent with all of these qualities.

Unfortunately, an individual is unlikely to know enough of these people who are also willing to commit to something difficult and lengthy like ‘learning how to code’.

As a result, some people turn to online communities (like the FreeCodeCamp community) to form study-groups. These groups are great, because they’re really accessible and easy to join, but the trade-off is that the interpersonal bonds start from zero.

2. Difficult to structure the learning correctly

Once you’ve gotten a good group of people together - well, what should you actually do together?

  • What should we learn first?

  • Which courses should we use?

  • What if we disagree on what we want to study?

There is a lot of noise on the internet about ‘how to learn coding’, and it’s almost impossible to navigate if you don’t already have the domain knowledge - and yet, it’s exactly those people without domain knowledge who need to learn how to code.

Ultimately, though, the most important thing in learning to code is getting going, so you are well-advised to just pick something and follow it (e.g. the FreeCodeCamp curriculum is a good starting point).

3. Difficult to follow-through and embed good learning habits

Even once you’ve gotten your group together, and you have a plan of what you’re going to do, the hardest part comes next - actually following through.

This may be especially true if this is a group that has come together from a community with low barriers to entry like FreeCodeCamp - because, unfortunately, this low barrier to entry also comes with a low barrier to exit. When anybody can join or leave very easily, it’s very difficult to know that the people you meet there are going to stick it out in your study group - and it’s harder to motivate yourself to stick it out.

In other words, ‘ghosting’ isn’t just for dating apps, it also happens in online study groups! You don’t know whether these people will ghost you, and they don’t know if you’ll ghost them. That lack of certainty makes it psychologically harder to invest in them - and, in a vicious cycle, that makes the ghosting all the more likely.

Paying for bootcamps is sometimes a rational way to overcome these difficulties

So, yes, bootcamps can be an expensive way of buying that peer group - but we think it’s still a rational decision for at least some, for those three benefits:

  1. Set up: big tuition fees give you a peer group screened for commitment via the proxy of ‘willingness-to-pay-expensive-tuition-and-abandon-a-career-for-study’;

  2. Structure: bootcamps have a canonical programme to follow; and

  3. Follow-through: an intensive immersive environment shock helps to embed disciplined learning.

However, even though we think bootcamps can (sometimes) be a rational purchase on these grounds, we think they can still be inefficient purchases, in overhead and screening.

Bootcamps can be inefficient in overheads

Lots of your tuition fee will typically be spent on marketing, instructor salary and fancy desks - when the value is the peer group.

Sure, these things can help - marketing provides environmental cues, instructors can provide additional support, fancy desks might make working more comfortable - but are they an efficient use of your money?

Bootcamps can be inefficient in screening

Yes, somebody willing to fork out and go into a full-time bootcamp is probably committed - but this will give lots of false negatives.

Is there a way to identify committed peers without resorting to such a blunt tool which doesn’t create corresponding risks and costs for yourself?

What if there was a way to get a motivated peer group - with set up, structure and follow-through - without the expense and risks of a full-time bootcamp?

What comes next?

We believe that it’s important to recognise that both technical and interpersonal skills are increasing in value.

But existing paths of learning to code aren’t optimised for this active, collaborative learning.

We think this problem can be solved. In a future post, we’ll explain in detail how we at Tech Collective are trying to take on this challenge.

We’re building another path of learning to code. One that affirms both technical and interpersonal skills. One that’s built around peer group community. One that’s optimised for actively team-centred workplaces.

It’s a tech-upskill community for active, collaborative learners, with:

  1. 🖇️ A small, selective cohort of motivated peers;

  2. 🏦 Part-time study and income-sharing to reduce your risk; and

  3. ❌ Zero membership costs until you have a good job.

It’s called Tech Collective, and we’d love you to join us on our mission.

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