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HR Increasingly Seeks Employees Who Can Code

A man is looking at a computer screen with code on it.

No matter the applicants' work history, HR professionals are seeking to hire those who can code.

"With more digital projects on the horizon, employers are on the lookout for coding skills across many creative positions, such as Web designers, user experience and e-mail marketing specialists, and content managers," said Diane Domeyer, executive director of The Creative Group, a Menlo Park, Calif., business that helps companies hire design, marketing and other talent.

According to a recent study by Burning Glass Technologies, nearly every aspect of modern life depends on computer coding. This includes our smartphones, banks, cars and even hospitals.

This has fueled a demand for people outside of the information technology department who know how to do computer coding, including business professionals who work with data, designers and marketers who create websites, engineers who build products and technologies, and scientists who conduct research, the study said. As SHRM Online reported last year, even teenagers are learning to code.

"There is definitely an increase in demand for coders in the workplace, as coding is becoming an essential tool in many fields," said Fernando Espinosa of Sanford Rose Associates, an executive search firm based in Plano, Texas.

"There is currently a shortage in the market."

Computer Programmers Enjoy Higher Job Growth, Salaries

There were 7 million job openings in 2015 in occupations that value coding skills, according to the Burning Glass Technologies study, which was conducted for Oracle. These jobs are attractive because they tend to pay more—about $84,000 a year for jobs that include coding skills compared to $62,000 for jobs that do not require coding, the study said.

And programming jobs are growing at a rate 12 percent higher than the market average.

"Because demand is often outpacing supply when it comes to top talent, salaries are rising," Domeyer said. "According to The Creative Group Salary Guide, average starting salaries for creative positions are projected to increase an average of 3.8 percent in 2016. Positions requiring digital expertise including coding—like user experience designers and mobile developers—are seeing even bigger gains."

Learning computer coding is not as daunting as it may sound, said Todd Rowley, a senior vice president at Cardinal Bank in Tysons Corner, Va., who sits on the board of Northern Virginia Community College.

When the economy was in a downturn a few years ago and the banking industry was faltering, Rowley heard that computer programming was a skill that could help the underemployed and unemployed restart careers. So Rowley, who is in his 50s, decided to take computer coding classes at the community college where he sits on the board.

He ended up excelling at coding, doing better than many students half his age. He has taken six or seven courses so far in JavaScript, HTML 5 and other computer languages and has maintained a 4.0 grade point average.

"As long as you are someone who can organize their thoughts and is organized, you, too, can be a programmer," he said. "You don't have to have a high-level math degree or a background in computer science. That's not what programming is. You are instructing a computer to do things—you are not building a computer."

What Skills Should Employers Look For?

Espinosa said job candidates should have a couple years of experience programming in the computer language of the company's choice. They should also provide interviewers with a link to any original code they have created, he said, and be able to explain the purpose of the coding project.

Domeyer says HR professionals should look for job candidates who have knowledge of CSS, HTML, JavaScript and other coding languages that are in demand.

Rowley says companies can also easily train existing staff to be computer programmers. "A company that wants to develop their employees to have a wider set of skills can invest in them through coding academies or community colleges in a very quick and not cost-intensive way," he said.

Rowley and Domeyer said gaining computer coding skills is worth the effort because it will make employees more productive and give them valuable expertise.

"Gaining digital skills will increase your marketability and open doors to more opportunities, no matter what your area of specialty," Domeyer said. "Even if the positions you're applying for don't require skills such as front-end coding, acquiring them can give you an edge in today's competitive job market."

Greg Wright is a Baltimore-based freelance writer who has covered Congress, consumer electronics and international trade for major news organizations, including Gannett News Service/
USA Today, Dow Jones and Knight-Ridder Financial News.


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