Teaching kids how to code is becoming increasingly popular. There’s a growing selection of books, toys and iPad apps that explain the concept of programming to an ever younger audience. So – does this mean that we can expect future generations of programmers to be able to start working in software development at a younger age? And if so, how will we be able to attract them?

The 7-year old prodigy

Muhammad Hamza Shahzad, a Birmingham boy with Pakistani origin, was last year proclaimed to be the world’s youngest qualified computer programmer aged just seven. Hamza took an early interest in computers and got his Microsoft Office Professional (MOP) certificate when he was six years old.

This boy’s skills in Java and C++ technically places him on the same level as many junior software programmers, in terms of hands-on ability to develop software applications and solve problems in code. In fact, he’s not likely to ever need a university degree to land himself a job, as the industry is crying out for talented coders – with or without formal diplomas.

Stronger skills at a younger age

Hamza may be an extreme example of gaining work skills early in life, but the reality is that future generations of developers will have been introduced to coding much earlier than previous ones. The software programmers of tomorrow will enter the workplace with a stronger set of skills at a younger age than we’ve seen before. But what does this mean for businesses?

There are a number of reasons why a company would jump at the chance to get their hands on young talent as early as possible in their careers.

  • Shaping talent
    When young people join the business, you get you the opportunity to shape them into the company culture early. They won’t have the same level of cultural ‘baggage’ as someone who’s worked in a number of previous roles, so you can guide them into becoming aligned with your business ethos.
  • Salary scale
    A business can obviously pay a modest introductory salary to someone starting their career – until they’ve built up enough experience to earn more. Working with long-term career incentives can attract these newbies to stay longer, instead of jumping ship for any new opportunity.
  • Attract more young people
    Recruiting young people gives you the opportunity to create a thriving workplace that attracts other people like them. By positioning yourself as a greenhouse for budding talent and taking young people seriously, you can extract huge value from the emerging IT generation.

However, there’s more to the idea of attracting and retaining young coders, such as Muhammad Hamza, in the future. These are a few questions you may want to consider:

  • How do you satisfy their hunger to learn?
    Let’s face it – if you’re recruiting a high school graduate who is smart, skilled and eager to work, you will need to ensure that they don’t grind to a halt. They’re used to learning, exploring and developing, so you need to keep them firmly on that journey. Provide plenty of training, development and qualifications to encourage their progress.
  • How do you bridge any age gaps in the workplace?
    Many businesses claim that their best work happens when there is a healthy balance of age, gender and cultural background. Regardless of what your current workforce looks like, you need to be mindful of making every team member feel valued. If you worry about a lack of integration between groups in the business, it can be a great idea to introduce mentorships or buddy programmes where the older team members guide the younger ones. You may also want to encourage social activities that everyone can join.

How do you retain them in the long term?

Taking on someone very young can of course require a great deal of resources. You may need to provide focused leadership to guide them in the beginning, along with plenty of training and support. But the more you nurture someone, the more you want to ensure that they stay for the long haul. It’s important to figure out what they imagine their career journey to look like, and help to make it a reality. Gradually adding responsibility, incentives and new challenges will help to make their job worth sticking around for.

The business of the future

None of us can of course tell what the business of the future will look like, but based on what we know today we can be certain that young people will be arriving into the workplace with much more advanced technical knowledge than before. This in combination with existing workers staying in their jobs much longer before retiring will make for a powerful combination of skills, experience, drive, and innovation.
We can’t wait!