In the UK, this week marks National Coding Week: An annual volunteer-led project that encourages the nurturing of coding skills in order to close the skills gap. Though originated in the UK, the week gained coverage and support in the EU and in the US. And of course, here at Cyber Protection Magazine we value the importance of secure coding in cybersecurity.
The increased demand for remote work over the past two years has revolutionised the way the majority of businesses operate. However, as the pandemic continues to accelerate the pace of digital transformation, the UK is slipping further into a digital skills shortage. Despite over 82% of jobs requiring digital skills, nearly 40% of the UK’s workforce are lacking the technical knowledge needed.
This National Coding Week, CyberProtection Magazine spoke to eight industry experts about developing the next generation of IT pros and coders and closing the skills gap.
Mind the gap
Programming is the literacy of our generation. “With digital products and services that dominate the modern world all being underpinned by code, it’s no wonder that of the 10 most-in demand skills in LinkedIn job adverts, the top seven are programming languages,” said Ian Rawlings, Regional VP at SumTotal Systems.
“Despite increased demand, currently, less than half of UK employers believe new entrants to the workforce have the digital-skills required. This needs to change if the UK is to plug the existing skills gap and become a leader in technology. From mandatory coding teaching in schools, to initiatives such as Code First and the Institute of Coding, there are so many ways to develop digital skills early on and show candidates all the benefits that coding has to offer.
“The coding skills gap is alarming,” adds Anurag Kahol, CTO at Bitglass. “I like to look at the world through my cybersecurity purview, and although the majority of entry-level cybersecurity jobs do not require coding skills, it is a skill that will determine how far you advance in your career and what opportunities are available to you down the road. I’m biased, of course, but learning to code can literally make your career. I’ve done pretty well out of it!
“Initiatives like National Coding Week are an important reminder of just how critical a skill this has become. The technology industry has a duty of care to work together to equip the workforce with the skills society needs for the future.”
Developing digital skills
Building and developing digital skills within the current workforce will also be key as the pandemic continues to accelerate the pace of digital transformation.
“The world needs talented coders and software professionals now more than ever,” highlights Svenja de Vos, CTO at Leaseweb Global. “Especially in the last year and a half, coding has become essential to daily life by allowing organisations to continue business operations in the face of the pandemic. Every single day, software developers come up with innovative apps that are helping to revolutionise a variety of industries. Dedicating a full week to promoting coding will hopefully influence many to further develop their skill.”
“Access to digital skills is a crucial enabler of digital transformation, fuelling increased demand for people with the skills to manage evolving technologies such as AI and cloud,” furthers Samantha Humphries, Head of Security Strategy EMEA at Exabeam.
“Experts suggest digital skills are vital to economic recovery following the pandemic, however, participation in digital skills training has fallen, with the number of young people taking IT A-Levels, further education courses and apprenticeships all declining.
“It is a responsibility the industry must shoulder as one, putting the spotlight on skills and working together to encourage the next generation of IT pros and coders.”
It’s not a skills gap, it’s a diversity gap
“National Coding Week serves as a great way to promote the importance of coding skills and to help encourage young people, especially young women, to pursue a career in technology,” Humphries adds. “Only 31% of UK tech jobs are held by women, which makes looking for skills in an all-but untapped female talent pool an obvious part of the solution.”
“Getting female developers, engineers and senior leaders to talk to young women and girls about their jobs and highlighting that tech can be exciting and engaging is hugely powerful,” adds Simon Gould, Chief Product Officer at Totalmobile. “It’s an approach I see first-hand, with my daughter studying computer science at GCSE. That small acorn that grows into a passion.”
“The stark gender divide means it’s often challenging for women working as engineers – from application engineers to mechanical engineers and cybersecurity engineers, women are almost always in the minority,” highlights Angela Garland, Escalations Engineer at Content Guru.
“My advice to women embarking on a career in technology is to keep pushing and challenging at every opportunity. The most important thing is to push yourself outside of your comfort zone, speak up in large groups of men and put your ideas out there. Find an organisation that puts everyone – regardless of gender – on an equal playing field and pushes you into a role where you challenge yourself and those around you.”
Debra Danielson, CTO and SVP Engineering at Digital Guardian, suggests that increased mentorship is one way forward for diversity. “As a woman working in technology, I can say that, outside of my own dogged stubbornness, my opportunities have stemmed from having a single person willing to advocate for me. That helped me break through some of the lazy stereotypes about women in STEM… being perceived to be less technical, less mathematical than men. Our allies, supporters and advocates can help open the door, and we need vocal colleagues and managers willing to give women chances and support us on our journeys.”
She adds, “we must create more space for women within the industry. National Coding Week is the perfect opportunity for leaders to connect with their teams and help women boost their skills and advance their careers.”
There is an abundance of choice and diversity in how a developer can leverage software components, cloud services and deployment patterns today. “There’s probably never been a more exciting time to create software,” notes Paul Farrington, Chief Product Officer at Glasswall.
“Although, because there is so much freedom of choice for developers, with this comes a degree of security risk.”
“One of the most important aspects of software development when it comes to achieving ‘secure by design,’ is to ensure developers have the tools they need at the time they are writing code, as they are still in-context. Deploying security tools sometime after, when a developer may have closed their laptop for the day, or even completed the whole project, is far too late.
“Where a vulnerability is detected, the developer should be given an immediate solution to address the issue. Development should demand this from their security tooling. This may seem obvious, but far too often security solutions are great at identifying problems but don’t always provide adequate help towards a resolution.”
He concludes: “In National Coding Week, my message to security teams is to be a solution architect, not a problem-architect. This is the heart of our philosophy at Glasswall – by giving users a ready-formed solution that returns files to a known-safe form, rather than just identifying a problem – you can minimise risk whilst avoiding being slowed-down by security.”