Yes, coding is important, but let’s first teach everyone to create quality content


President Obama recently kicked off Computer Science Week by announcing that everybody should learn to “code.”

U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor says that, “Becoming literate in code is as essential to being literate in language and math.”

O’Reilly Radar’s Mike Loukides writes this piece about “the reason everyone should learn to code.”

Yes, coding is an important skill.  The ability to create quality content, however, is just as important.

I grew up loving to write, and won my first writing competition through our local library back in 6th grade (for an essay, entitled, “The Great Tsunami.”)

In college, I followed a public relations career track, and was required to take a writing test for every internship for which I applied.  Writing tests were the norm for my first several job applications.

Since that time, much has changed. 140-character tweets are as important as 400-word press releases.  Photo captions and six second Vine “scripts” can make or break a marketing campaign. Concise emails pitching your product or yourself to reporters, or prospective employers, can make or break your career.

Despite those changes, I believe the written word is as important as ever.

At the same time, I’ve seen a dramatic decrease in the ability of young professionals to produce quality content.

During the past decade, I’ve seen many resumes and interviewed dozens of candidates for a variety of communications-related positions.  The most common skill that has been lacking among those candidates is the ability to write clearly, concisely and with good grammar.

I’m not alone.  In 2010, Dr. Andrew Lingwall of Clarion University released a paper showing the results of a study showing a decline in basic writing skills of university students.  According to his paper, during the past ten years the overall writing skills of the average college student has greatly decreased.

Some may argue that the dawn of technology and social media has made writing skills obsolete. I would argue that just the opposite is true.  In fact, these advancements have made the type of short, concise writing I mentioned earlier more vital.

Further, I’ve always thought that this type of writing is much more difficult than longer-form writing.  As Mark Twain famously said, “If I had more time, I would have written a short letter.”

This type of “short” writing dominates our world. Those who can create it well are in demand.

Despite this, it’s the tech, the apps and the coding — the shiny, new toys — that get all the attention.

It’s important to remember, however, that without good, quality content, these tech tools are like hammers without nails; screwdrivers without screws.

Take the example of Barack Obama’s much-ballyhooed online campaign. There have been countless stories about the tech, the ex-Google coders, and the apps employed by the campaign. What’s been less reported is the massive amount of testing that went into every piece of content produced by the Obama team; the meticulous work that went into creating email subject lines, tweets, Facebook posts, online ad creative, and blog posts.  Yes, it was the tech that delivered this content, but it was the content that motivated and connected communities.

Look at Facebook, Twitter, or even Instagram. These were built (and continue to grow because of) great coders. They are all useless, however, without content.  Those who master them are those who can produce killer content.

The future will rely on those who can create this quality content to market their products; tell their stories; tell the stories of their employers; and motivate and capture the imaginations of consumers, voters and donors.

The adage, “content is king” is an old one. It’s also never been more true.

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