From finance and banking to fashion and art, technology is radically altering the global business environment in myriad ways – forcing policymakers and employers alike to rethink their traditional models.

By Vutlhari Rikhotso, chief technology officer at Basalt Technology

Arguably, one of the critical challenges that companies are already facing is the availability (or lack thereof) of IT skills – and chief among them, software developers (or people highly skilled in coding and coding languages). Increasingly, software developers are playing a fundamental role in business growth and innovation, yet this specific career path is riddled with misconceptions…and misapprehensions around what it takes to become a coder. As a result, it’s important to gain a more comprehensive and nuanced understanding of what this role can offer, in both a professional and personal realm.

Here are four things that aspiring (and non-aspiring) developers should take into consideration:

The door of opportunity is wide open

Unlike many other careers, you can become a software developer by following or embracing many different avenues. People become skilled coders by attending university or Technikon courses in computer science and information systems, as well as bootcamps and training programmes such as We Think Code.

But many of the world’s most talented and sought after software developers are actually self-taught, so attending formal education (while always valuable) doesn’t always give coders a competitive advantage. Indeed, this is arguably one of the most attractive career paths for highly curious and self-motivated individuals, because one simply needs access to a computer (which doesn’t have to be top of the range by any means) and the Internet, where resources (such as YouTube) and tutorials can be accessed at no cost.

In addition, you don’t need any specialisation or former training to learn how to code – you simply need time and self-discipline. People of any age, background and gender can become skilled coders, it all simply depends on one’s individual purpose and level of commitment.

Global companies across sectors really need skilled coders

With technology and data now becoming the driving force of global business (and perhaps even more so in the wake of the pandemic), employers are on the hunt for skilled software developers and IT talent more generally. There is also an awareness that many new and unexpected job roles (ones never previously heard of or imagined) will emerge as digitisation and automation shape and disrupt industries. This makes the potential job opportunities and roles for skilled coders almost infinite and hard to quantify – although there are certain areas of growth that are creating more demand than others.

Cyber security, for example, is a rapidly growing field, where many coders are in roles such as security consultants and doing things like penetration testing and fraud detection (i.e. ‘breaking’ IT systems for a living!). In addition, there is high demand for software testing and quality assurance, as machine learning and automation takes over many tasks within companies.

Importantly, with the global shift to remote working and distributed teams, talented coders and developers will be highly sought after by global technology juggernauts such as Twitter, Facebook and Amazon – companies which will seek out the top talent (and can afford to do so), no matter where they are located.

You can play a part in uplifting communities

South Africa, and indeed, the continent, offers talented and inspired software developers unlimited opportunities to apply local/grassroots knowledge to solving important societal and economic challenges. As a developing market with fewer legacy tech/IT systems in place, technology can be a powerful tool to uplift communities and make an immediate, positive impact by harnessing one’s local insights and experience.

In essence, we don’t need to try and mimic or emulate what peers in developed markets are working on – we have our own, very real and exciting challenges to solve and innovate around.

From agriculture to forensics, coders can unlock opportunities and drive new efficiencies that improve lives. For instance, South African police struggle with dockets that go missing or are incomplete – here, software and the blockchain can automate key parts of the process and ensure that critical data doesn’t go missing or falls prey to fraud/tampering.

You can solve your own ‘problems’ (bye-bye manual tasks)

If you learn to code, the creative possibilities are almost endless. In my own life, I have used code to automate and eliminate the ‘boring’ or monotonous elements, such as budgeting and exporting data from bank statements.

In university, I created my own app to take the complexity out of class scheduling and to make sure I didn’t have any overlapping courses. Now, imagine if you could automate the boring or tedious parts of your life – well….learn to code, and you can! Moreover, code can be used to prove – or disprove – any assumptions you may have, as long as you have enough data.

For those pursuing a career in software development or IT more generally, there are of course roadblocks and drawbacks, as with any career.

As there are almost no barriers to entry anymore, it is highly competitive – and many ‘influencers’ are spreading misconceptions online that can put off the less confident. In addition, it remains a highly male dominated industry, and can be toxic as many coders ignore the development of soft skills that are required to work in teams and build a harmonious, open working culture.

However, this again represents an opportunity to bring one’s own ability to self-reflect, communicate openly and problem-solve – and thus create positive change by impacting the existing culture within companies.