Kathy Gibson is at SAP TechEd in Barcelona – Developers are among the most sought after skills today, with many opportunities opening up for creative people able to put their innovative ideas into code.
But just because you didn’t study programming at college, or take a computer science degree in university doesn’t mean you can’t take part in the exciting world of development.
Ronnie Andre Bjorvik Sletta is a developer who creates user experience systems in SAP Fiori. It’s a job he’s done for the last four years – but before that he spent 15 years in the Norwegian army.
As a teenager, Sletta played around with his 486 PC, and dabbled with a bit of HTML coding, but no more than most other youngsters.
In Norway, military service is compulsory and Sletta enjoyed it enough to stay on and become an officer. However, as he approached 35 years of age, he realised he needed to either become a career officer or move out into something completely different.
An opportunity came up with a small SAP consultancy and so he made the leap into the world of IT.
Having had access to computers for most of his life, Sletta wasn’t afraid of technology and, as an army officer, he was well used to learning. “In the army you learn that the learning journey never ends,” he points out.
His first exposure to SAP when he joined the consultancy was a three-month boot camp where he learned a little bit about everything, and this is where he found out about Fiori and started the journey to becoming a UX developer.
Sletta has formulated some ground rules that he believes will be useful to other people looking to make a career change into the development environment.
The first is that the journey can be hard – and there will be struggles along the way.
He also urges budding developers to ask themselves why they want to do it – so they can remind themselves of this when they meet hurdles.
“It can be a long journey and it can be tedious,” Sletta says. “So you need to know why you are doing it.
“For me, I wanted to change people’s lives and make an impact on the world.”
When thinking about making a move, he recommends that people always be open minded and look for opportunities.
“There are opportunities all around us. For me, I was quitting the army, and I took the opportunity to get into development.
“A friend wanted to go from business to development. As an Office user, she started out by automating tasks in Office and became the go-to person in her organisation. Three months later she got a job programming in C#.”
Sletta recommends consciously thinking like a programmer. “This is not to become boring, but to get to know how computers and programming work.”
He points out that people sometimes think that going into programming is as simple as picking up a framework and that they are then able to code.
“For some people that might work, but I found out that by first exploring the fundamentals of programming makes it easier when you hit barriers along the way.
“I also found out that you can have free access to some of the best education in the world. CS50 is Harvard’s and Yale’s introductory course in computer science. The lecturers are available on YouTube. It’s a 12-week course, but if you do it yourself you can run through the course in a couple of weeks.
“I got exponentially better at my job by learning these things,” Sletta says. “It was also easier to talk the common language.”
Another resource for beginner programmers is code.org, he adds. “This is not just for children. It is for learning programming. Lots of great resources and you can learn the core fundamentals without getting cluttered by terminology.
“A great tool is Scratch. People think it’s a toy, but it abstracts the complexities; you use puzzle pieces to create a program. You can learn the fundamentals without having to worry about hard syntax.
“I still use Scratch, even now that I have learned how to program,” says Sletta.
Gathering new tools and learning new things – for instance, a programming language – are also useful.
He adds that there are a many online resources where budding programmers can learn to code for free.
Finally, Sletta suggests finding new friends, like-minded people who can take the journey with you.
“This journey can be troublesome, there are ups and downs,” he says. “When you hit barriers, it is good to have people you can talk to.
“Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, online communities and podcasts are all places to meet people. There are lots of people around the world on the same journey and they all support each other.”
The bottom line, Sletta says, is that just about anyone can become a developer. “Remember always: If you want this you can do it. Never let anyone tell you otherwise. It may not be easy, but it is not impossible.”