Dev

Why one company is making all its employees learn how to code

The most successful companies are ones that are never satisfied with the status quo. They are too busy looking for ways to improve their products, personnel, and experience for their customers.

There are many approaches a company can take to improve itself. For us, it meant trying something revolutionary that would arm our employees with a new skill set, bring our technical and non-technical teams closer together, and provide the entire company with a deeper understanding and appreciation of what we do.

To accomplish this, we set an ambitious goal of having all of our employees learn how to write code in 2012.

Three months ago, we announced to our 60-person company that each employee was going to learn how to code in 2012. We named the initiative the “Codinization Project”. After the initial moments of surprise in the room faded, I explained to our employees the reasons why we were undertaking this initiative.

As leading technology companies have shown time and time again, being smarter than the competition and building superior technology is the only way a company can succeed over the long term. We felt that this Codinization Project was the challenging yet necessary step we needed to build a deeper understanding across the company of the intricacies of our technology platforms and products. If we could equip our employees with a solid foundation of knowing why our products do what they do, the more intelligent they would become in every element of our business, from product planning to client communications, implementations, and customer support.

We were also inspired by witnessing firsthand an example of similar dedication. Rakuten, our Japanese parent company, has been tremendously successful in pursuing its “Englishnization Initiative” in which Hiroshi Mikitani, Rakuten founder and CEO, is having the entire 12,000-person workforce learn English.

Rakuten’s dedication and their success with this initiative showed our team that with the right training and effort, we too could push ourselves to new heights that before had seemed impossible.

Last, we were confident that the project would encourage additional communication and collaboration between our technical and non-technical departments. Our engineers would serve as mentors, giving lessons, providing training and tutoring, and answering programming questions.

With the plan and motivations laid out for the company, we began our Codinization Project.

Knowing we could not embark on a project of this scale and complexity alone, we researched available programming training resources. After careful consideration we chose to partner with the web programming tutorial company Codecademy. The Codecademy training courses are free, formatted in a user-friendly approach, and offer custom creation tools which enable our engineers to develop specific coursework relevant to our products.

In the end, it made the choice for which training resource to choose a no-brainer. I called Codecademy co-founder Zach Sims and explained what we were trying to accomplish. He was instantly intrigued by our commitment and enthusiasm. We were the first company he was aware of that was having its entire workforce learn how to code. Zach graciously agreed to come to our Boston headquarters to help officially launch this project to all of our employees, including walking through a tutorial in the Codecademy platform.

Shortly after our official rollout to the company, our chief technology officer reviewed the programming lessons provided by Codecademy and established a project schedule which takes our employees through the JavaScript language. We made sure that the training was spread out enough (just four or five hours of coursework each month) so as in not to become a burden on our employees’ already busy schedules.

To promote collaboration, we also grouped our employees into teams of four or five, with an engineer serving as mentor for each group. This ensures that no employee feels alone while working their way through the project. Employees have colleagues they can go to with questions as well as a mentor who helps provide the additional assistance and training they may need. For our engineers, it provided them with an opportunity to share their knowledge and experience, teaching their colleagues.

To keep things fun, we’ve also hosted several “coding lunches” where the entire company spends an hour or so working in their groups completing the assigned coursework for that week. The employees enjoy the break, and it provides an opportunity to work through the lessons together, having their questions answered and being able to learn from each other.

We are also in the midst of rolling out additional monthly training sessions facilitated by our engineering team for any employee who wishes to receive more training on the subject matter being covered that month.

While we’re only three months into the Codinization Project, I am already noticing the impact the project is making. The dialogue and questions I am hearing from both the “learning” and “mentoring” sides has been inspiring to me. Technical and non-technical employees are enjoying working together to help raise the company’s collective product knowledge and understanding.

It’s also brought together teams that otherwise might not have had the opportunity work together. The Codecademy platform has met our initiative’s needs, providing non-technical employees with engaging, appropriate training lessons to introduce them to the JavaScript language.

I have faith in our team that we will succeed, and I am excited to watch our progression through our Codinization Project. With that in mind, I better go… I’m late completing my Codecademy homework.

Michael Jaconi is CEO of FreeCause, a loyalty and rewards platform for brands and consumers. He also serves as an executive officer at Rakuten, FreeCause’s parent company and one of the world’s largest Internet service companies in the world. While Jaconi possesses an extensive background in business, politics, and media, the Codinization Project represents his first foray into computer programming.

Top image courtesy of olly, Shutterstock

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