When I ask people to picture a coder, they usually imagine someone like Mark Zuckerberg: a hoodied college dropout who builds an app in a feverish 72-hour programming jag—with the goal of getting insanely rich and, as they say, “changing the world.”
But this Silicon Valley stereotype isn’t even geographically accurate. The Valley employs only 8 percent of the nation’s coders. All the other millions? They’re more like Devon, a programmer I met who helps maintain a security-software service in Portland, Oregon. He isn’t going to get fabulously rich, but his job is stable and rewarding: It’s 40 hours a week, well paid, and intellectually challenging. “My dad was a blue-collar guy,” he tells me—and in many ways, Devon is too.
Politicians routinely bemoan the loss of good blue-collar jobs. Work like that is correctly seen as a pillar of civil middle-class society. And it may yet be again. What if the next big blue-collar job category is already here—and it’s programming? What if we regarded code not as a high-stakes, sexy affair, but the equivalent of skilled work at a Chrysler plant?
Among other things, it would change training for programming jobs—and who gets encouraged to pursue them. As my friend Anil Dash, a technology thinker and entrepreneur, notes, teachers and businesses would spend less time urging kids to do expensive four-year computer-science degrees and instead introduce more code at the vocational level in high school. You could learn how to do it at a community college; midcareer folks would attend intense months-long programs like Dev Bootcamp. There’d be less focus on the wunderkinds and more on the proletariat.