After leaving corporate life, Emma Barnes set up publisher Snow Books and quickly realised that the software she needed to process royalties and administer systems was either too expensive for a start-up or just didn’t do the job she required. Her solution was not one that most of us would consider, but Emma’s decision to teach herself to code and build her own system, Biblio Cloud, is indicative of her infectious drive, energy and pragmatic approach.
At The Galley Club on Tuesday, the theme of Emma’s talk was Seven years: what happens when the coding kids graduate? The class of 2023 will have been programming since they were 5, she warned, and basic coding principles are being taught at primary school level now.
Emma is confident that by 2023, all entering the workforce will have (or require) technical skills. I don’t think anyone could deny that it will certainly be advantageous to have a more technical skillset, but where does that leave us now and how do we plan for the short term and longer term future of publishing?
Barnes’ talk was a call to arms: train yourself or train your staff now and you will reap the rewards. Technology disrupts and new developments occur faster than the economy is able to adapt. As an industry, publishing needs to strive to anticipate and adapt to change.
Writing code or programming software might not be for everyone, but Emma Barnes certainly left her audience inspired to have a go. She taught herself to code through books and there are also forums and online groups, such as Codebar and Rails Girls for those who learn better through human contact.
I came away with the feeling that, as an industry, publishing should be taking responsibility for training or “upskilling” its workforce. What an advantage it could be to have technically capable employees in-house. By growing its own, perhaps to an extent, publishing can avoid the problems of culture clash and pay discrepancy that can come with hiring developers from other industries. Time and money could be saved.
If you are worried about getting employees on board to develop their skills in this area, Barnes has convincing arguments to inspire those who haven’t grown up through the computer science route. Code is language and she believes writing code script triggers editorial satisfaction as well as giving you a job for life. Barnes described code writing as the modern equivalent of being a craftsman, an activity which allows you to become the maker as well as the ideas person. Code is “written in narrative arcs”, so it does make sense to those whose strengths lie in language and literature. To back up her case, I can add my own anecdote. Married to a software developer, who studied English literature and whose love of poetry inspired him to read me the entirety of The Wasteland in one sitting, I can testify that software development is not solely the domain of maths and science graduates.
Barnes is sceptical of publishing describing itself as a creative industry when she feels creation is not always encouraged and there is reluctance to break the traditional cycle. She urges us to put the power back into the hands of the juniors and provide them with the opportunity to give coding or other technically focussed roles a chance.