The new executive skillset: Code

As digital disruption hits almost every industry, executives are now adding web coding to their management toolbox.

In a Mosman mansion, with sweeping Sydney Harbour views, 10 advertising executives hunch over Mac laptops, oblivious to the beauty behind them.

By the end of the day, they would have built their own web-based application from scratch, even though most of them have never undertaken computer coding before.

The apps are basic, and are supposed to be. This “code-in-a-day” course is not about teaching participants how to be web developers but, as the CEO of one of Australia’s largest ad agencies says, “to call out bullshit to the ­developers”.

He echoes a lament of many top managers. In the era of digital, where the balance of economic power has shifted to Silicon Valley, the language of a successful manager is no longer just profit and loss or customer lifetime value but HTML, Java and CSS.

Teaching that language to executives is becoming a booming business for British firm Decoded. Founded by former advertising executives in 2011, their code-in-a-day program has trained 7000 people and names among its ­clients blue chip firms like Uni-lever, Accenture and Thomas Cook.

They are in talks to become a core part of the graduate training program for some of the world’s top consulting firms — who see their next business opportunity in advising companies how to deal with digital transformation.

“Our first clients were advertising agencies and media companies,” said Decoded’s chief operating officer, Barry Whyte.

“They had seen first hand the impact of digital disruption and their executives realised that unless they understood these changes they would not be equipped to compete with companies like Google and Facebook. Now we are giving training to consulting firms and international banks.”

In the three years since it was founded, Decoded has added 35 staff and opened an office in New York after the Guardian Media Group bought a 15 per cent stake. Following on from the success of their “pop-up training” in Sydney in September, the company plans to open an office here in February.

Demand for Decoded’s services has skyrocketed along with the boom in tech.

“What we’re seen in London and New York in the past few years is a revitalisation of those cities around tech. Silicon Roundabout in London and Silicon Alley in New York are exploding, but firms can’t find enough executives with even a basic knowledge of digital,” Mr Whyte said.

“Having these kind of skills is becoming essential for a modern executive because every company in the world communicates with their customer through a digital touchpoint.’’

Decoded trained 500 people in Sydney over five days. In one session, advertising executives built a rudimentary location-based web app. With a bit of coaching it was remarkably easy.

Despite the high wages developers can command, they are surprisingly altruistic with their intellectual property and multiple free online forums exist where you could find code to help create a variety of functions.

The trainees were under no ­illusion that they’d be replacing their developers any time soon but they left with a much greater sense of confidence.

“Every second day we’re talking about things like rich media and gamification to people in the digital discipline,” said John Vellis, who works in business development with media agency OMD. “A lot of the time you find people really don’t understand what they’re discussing. You have this fear about what goes on in the back end, but as you walk through the process and build your own app, it makes logical sense.”

Sudeep Gohil, the Australian CEO of one of the country’s most successful ad agencies, Droga5, not only agreed, but was far more optimistic about what he could achieve.

“Code is in everything we do these days. (This) demystified the world of digital for me and it made me realise that anything I could imagine, I could probably have a crack at creating ... myself.”

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