Training needed for thousands of coming computer jobs, says Code NL founder

The tech sector is an often-overlooked success story in the province, says James Flynn, and better education will help students tap into its potential.

Study predicts province will have 3,800 unfilled programming jobs by 2019

The provincial government is investing $400,000 into a new initiative to help get kids learn computer coding in schools. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

Government's announcement of $400,000 for coding education in schools is a good start, says the founder of Code NL, but it needs to go further.

"It's not a full curriculum. I think we'd really like to see a full curriculum implemented that provides this level of computer science for all students across the province," said James Flynn, who started the group to advocate for better computer programming education in the province.

James Flynn is the founder of Code NL.

On Monday, the Newfoundland and Labrador government announced $400,000 in funding aimed at getting students in the province computer coding.

Flynn, a Rhodes scholar and MBA student at Oxford University, says though it's not enough, it's a step up from what he experienced growing up in St. John's.

"We had two [computer science] courses that were offered, taken by very few people," he said.

"I really would have liked to get into this much earlier. I started so late in my life … I almost felt like it was too late at that point."

Unfilled jobs in province's tech sector

Code, said Flynn, "is basically a set of instructions that people give to computers to tell them what to do."

There are different languages for different types of code — Flynn knows three — and people who can read it and write it are in demand in the job market, he said.

Want to teach your kids to code? Start with the language Scratch, says Flynn. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

He points to a study by the Information and Communications Technology Council, which showed that in 2015, there were 7,900 people in Newfoundland and Labrador working in ICT — information and communications technology.

That same study predicted that by 2019, the province would have 3,800 unfilled jobs in the sector.

He doesn't think those numbers have fallen since the study was published.

"It's definitely a success story that we don't hear much of in Newfoundland," he said, listing companies like Kraken Sonar and Verafin as examples of local companies who hire coders.

"Government, oil and gas, two of the big employers in Newfoundland and Labrador, they will employ programmers," he said.

The report notes that "not many youth are opting for ICT careers, leaving a void that could potentially limit Newfoundland and Labrador's future competitiveness before long."

Flynn says providing students with a better computer science curriculum could change that.

Particular benefits for Newfoundland and Labrador

Aside from the economics, better coding education could prove to be a demographic success for the province, he said.

At the government announcement on Monday, Kendra MacDonald, chair of the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Technology Industries, said coding was building a future in which workers chose where they work.

Kendra MacDonald is chair of the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Technology Industries. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

Flynn agrees, and sees that as a particularly important point for smaller towns.

With many programmers working remotely, coding could provide people in rural parts of the province employment opportunities that let them stay in their home towns.

"The key thing there is just making sure that the broadband connectivity exists," he said.