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JavaScript training for every employee? One company says yes

Howard Baldwin | Sept. 20, 2012
One software company is requiring all its employees -- from the CEO on down -- to learn JavaScript. The goal: A better understanding of what customers and engineers need.

Interestingly, the programming requirement hasn't limited hiring efforts. In its initial interviews, FreeCause highlights the ongoing cross-company programming requirement, and none of the six non-technical people it's hired in the last few months has balked at the idea, says Hage.

Offloading engineering tasks

One goal in implementing the program was to see how many tasks the company could offload from its engineering staff. As Jaconi explains, "In any company, engineers complain that not only does the business side not understand what they do, but they're overloaded with mundane tasks that never become a priority." That frustrates both sides.

According to Hage, the company used to allocate about 30% of the engineering staff's time to fulfilling requests from the business side for new features in the company's software. Offloading even 20% of that time to let engineers focus on high-level tasks delivers a huge benefit, he says -- especially in a technology company, where engineering represents a high percentage of costs.

Data analyst Corinne Salchunas: "Working with my coding mentor ... we were able to improve clickthroughs at least sixfold."

Data analyst Corinne Salchunas is one employee who has taken up the challenge. Salchunas is responsible for analyzing the effectiveness of the company's loyalty management software. With a degree in economics, she had not done any programming in school and none at FreeCause beyond Excel macros and limited database queries.

"One of our features notifies people when they can earn points on a particular site, but I noticed that users weren't clicking on these notifications very frequently," says Salchunas. "I realized that we weren't notifying users clearly enough. Working with my coding mentor, I came up with some new versions of the notifications, including having the pop-ups appear sooner, and between the messaging and the timing, we were able to improve clickthroughs at least sixfold."

"That was a great demonstration of how powerful codinization could be," says Jaconi. "We never anticipated that that kind of validation would happen so quickly."

Is coding for everyone?

Would something like FreeCause's cross-company codinization program work for every company? Very likely not. But the idea behind the program should resonate for both CEOs and CIOs. "As we become more dependent on technology," says CEO Jaconi, "it's tough to argue against people learning what their future work might be based on."

Manufacturing jobs are turning into software engineering jobs, he says. "We're interacting with more technology than ever before, so having a fundamental understanding of what our future is built upon will make us better consumers and better professionals."

Ultimately, Jaconi says, "If you understand the technology your company is built on, you can only become better at what you do."


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