Coding: from telepathy to living life on the edge

Generally, telepathy, automated cars and the tricorder are considered to be works of science fiction. Yet even as you read this, all three concepts are being set up for trials in the real world. Facebook is currently recruiting coders to work alongside neuroscientists on various projects at Building 8, a lab unit that intends to develop software allowing us to control computers with our brains. The UK has just pledged £100 million in a bid to be the first country in developing driverless cars, and Oxbotica – the company building the software to operate these cars – has already set up test drives to start in 2019. The tricorder – a Star Trek device held over the body to give an instant diagnosis of any illness – is now a thing of reality. Two firms, in the US and Taiwan, are competing to develop such a product, with clinical trials already taking place for both the entrants.


The image of the coder as a socially awkward loner isn’t something that anyone would associate with either of these projects. And yet coding is integral for the success of all three – not to mention many thousands more projects currently being trialled and developed. And as if working on exciting, cutting-edge material wasn’t enough, coders are now the popular kids on the block, working flexible hours and enjoying substantial pay packages. The divergence of technology into new uncharted territories means that coders are going to be in high demand for a while, too.


So, what is coding? Simply put, it’s linguistic skill in areas of computing language and since code is the building block for the vast majority of technologies out there, from phones to cars to social media, coding is fast becoming an essential skill in the job market.


A career in coding is a ticket past the pearly gates of technical heaven. When Facebook advertised for a brain-computer interface engineer to work on building computers to translate humans’ “silent speech”, the job responsibilities included the use of computers and artificial intelligence to work with neuroimaging and electrophysiological data. In its recent developer conference in San Jose, the company also declared plans to build software allowing people to read each other’s thoughts through touch alone, using pressure points on the skin to relay information. In order to develop this technology, Facebook needs a number of software engineers, and particularly coders, to work with neuroscientists.


Elsewhere in the UK, driverless cars are getting ready to be tested on the roads. But who drives a driverless car? A coder does – or, to be specific, the software written by that coder does. And let’s not forget the tricorder from Star Trek. Coders’ jobs can also involve an element of risk, when they write programs to safeguard sensitive information on home security or the economy against cyber attacks. Ethical hacking, or white hat hacking, is a job where coders are hired by organisations such as the government, social media platforms, or financial institutions to test their security by attempting to hack their firewalls.


Current enrollment numbers suggest a serious skills shortage in this industry. Cybersecurity employs about 58,000 experts, but there have been warnings from the Committee of Public Accounts that hiring the right people is somewhat of a challenge. What’s more worrying is that this shortage could also seriously undermine national cybersecurity. In the UK, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport recently invested £20 million in a pilot program designed to train schoolchildren in cybersecurity with an aim to recruit them.


When it comes to being seen as a national hero, you know this is an age where coders are seriously cool.

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