Give coding a go…what’s the worst that can happen?!

With the ever-increasing focus in the workplace on all things tech, including AI, Big Data, Machine Learning and Blockchain, the demand for skilled computer coders is growing. You may feel that this is a specialised skillset, unfathomably beyond your capabilities – one to be left to those younger or more engrained in the IT world – or both. Nevertheless, it’s arguable that learning some basic coding yourself isn’t as hard as you may fear and could prove incredibly valuable.

I’ve got Excel Thanks!

Personally, I think this applies even more so to those in the accounting/finance fields where proficiency with Excel (or any other mainstream spreadsheet and/or database tool) is seen as key. However, a cursory understanding of coding can prove useful in most office-based jobs. Certainly, anyone involved in data analysis should have basic coding knowledge in their armoury, not just how to use a Vlookup or Sumif!

OK so what do you mean by Coding?

Coding is simply a way of writing text (or “code”) which a computer can understand and, as a result, perform an action. Many different forms of writing code exist, just as there are many different spoken languages. You may have heard of Python, C++, Visual Basic and R. Each has their strengths and weaknesses. Whilst knowing one will not allow you to know them all, the basic principles of coding are common to all the languages.

Is it really that useful?

Many people inadvertently “write” a little code by recording Macros in Excel/Access/Word which exist by storing code using Visual Basic. You can use macros to automate a group of actions so that they are all performed as a whole rather than individually having to be actioned by the user. For example, a simple macro can be written to format text as being Bold, underlined, in size 18 Times New Roman rather than having to select each font property and amend individually. At the other end of the spectrum, a macro can be run to perform a data import, validation, transformation and produce a range of outputs, such as reports, for the user, drastically reducing user input, potential errors and speeding things up considerably.

I wouldn’t know where to begin…?

The simplest way to learn is by doing. Learn how to record a macro and then take a look at the code behind it. Or dive right into a language such as Python, which is popular for manipulating data and can be downloaded for free from the internet. Read the help topics within the software or find online blogs and tutorials which can lead you through the basics. Whilst, at first, you may find it a challenge, as you gain better understanding so the possibilities of what you can achieve will increase.

What could I do with it?

With the ability to write code into a spreadsheet or to create your own small app or program you may be in a position to implement new routines at work to improve productivity or it may give you the understanding to better communicate to other professional programmers and outline what you need them to do for you. In prior roles I was able to write simple programs that performed bank reconciliation routines, created bank payment files to pay suppliers, managed customer contacts and streamlined order processes. The beauty of being able to do things yourself means you can tailor a product to your exact business needs rather than having to make do with an approximate fix.

Taking your first step into coding isn’t as hard as you think. Creating simple programs needn’t scare you. With technology coming ever more to the fore, gaining a deeper insight can only prove useful and increasingly relevant. And you just never know…you may even enjoy it!

Taking it a step further…

It can be easier to learn in a group so why not try and involve others in your team at work and encourage them to learn some code. If you’re the team leader or manager and have some experience already then share your knowledge with your team and encourage them to take it further. If you can foster an environment where everyone learns together and shares this knowledge freely you will most likely find your team to feel more empowered and bought into their work. Harnessed correctly the benefits are numerous, so why not give it a go…what’s the worst than can happen…?