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There are so many things we do every day that we take for granted: browsing the internet, texting our friends, scrolling our Instagram feeds, opening the Spotify playlist. But many technology-related actions we do are not accessible to millions of people with disabilities and impairments worldwide. 

Back in 2012, Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) was launched and it has been marked annually every third Thursday of May in order to highlight the need for increased digital accessibility. 

Two CODE students, Maya Alroy, an Interaction Design student, and Tetiana Boliukh, a Product Management student, are definitely the leaders in steering the conversation about accessibility at CODE. 

Along with many efforts within the field, the day promotes real improvements that are helping many people to overcome obstacles when using technology. But despite the improvements and finally opening conversations on the importance of inclusion amongst designers, developers, and tech leaders, there is still a lot of work to do. Here at CODE, we recognize the importance of these conversations, and our students are actively encouraged to co-design more accessible learning journeys that address their individual requirements. We know we could do more. 

CODE students Tetiana and Maya
CODE students Maya (right) and Tetiana (left)

Two CODE students, Maya Alroy, an Interaction Design student, and Tetiana Boliukh, a Product Management student, are definitely the leaders in steering the conversation about accessibility at CODE. 

Maya’s interest in the topic comes from a personal perspective; because of her own deafness in one ear she was always more aware of the barriers that technology users might face, but she additionally has the notion to support people through technology. “Through a UX course I started a couple of years ago, I was made aware of the problems that people with disabilities are facing with technology. I started to work on my own sign language app idea, and I continued to work on it during my orientation semester at CODE,” says Maya.

“I always strived for maximum inclusion – every person should be included and feel comfortable in society. That seemed to me like the only fair base,” explains Tetiana. At CODE she met Maya and, learning about her hearing disabilities, she just started to try to observe the world through her perspective. “And then I was thinking: as a product manager, I’m building the product. How can I continue to sleep tight at night knowing that somebody out there is struggling to use that product?” she asked herself.

Maya and Tetiana went together to the A11y Accessibility conference on the accessibility topic last year in Berlin. They both described the event as an inspiring breaking point and warn that there are a lot of disabilities on the spectrum that need to be taken into account. Not all disabilities are visible. For instance, there are also cognitive disabilities/impairments, and simple solutions like a consistent layout and the use of plain language would enable people with different learning disabilities/impairments. 

I was thinking: as a product manager, I’m building the product. How can I continue to sleep tight at night knowing that somebody out there is struggling to use that product?

When she is doing some design work, Maya says that she has a checklist. “I’m checking 1000 times if the colors that I’m using are accessible. I check the contrast and how all this will perform in the screen reader.” 

Maya worked on a research project at CODE to understand more about visual impairments and technology, with support from Tetiana. “I wanted to learn how the eye works… about blindness and color blindness, and how the screen reader works… I went back home to Israel to visit Migdal Or, a multi-service center dedicated to advancing people with blindness or visual impairment towards independent functioning and inclusion in the workplace.” She collected a lot of data, went to many meetups in Berlin, and talked with many inspiring people. She met Matt May, the Head of Inclusion at Adobe at the accessibility conference in Scotland, who talked about how design thinking and empathy aren’t the most effective tools when designing for disabled people – disabled people need to be co-creators of our products and not only our inspiration. 

Expo 2020
Maya’s project during Expo 2019

During the Expo Day in December 2019, Maya showcased the results of her work. “I arranged different posters with quotes, darkened my screen and I opened the screen reader and encouraged people to try it out. It was interesting to see how many people were afraid of leaving their comfort zone. Some students were hesitating. I know I can’t change all of their minds but I just always want to point out a very practical approach: ‘Building a website, it’s like a house. If you build it with no accessibility from the beginning, it will be much harder to fix it.’”

Disabled people need to be co-creators of our products and not only our inspiration. 

Tetiana thinks that the key aspect is to normalize the topic of disability and raise awareness of what is actually happening around us. “You might not know that the person sitting right next to you is facing obstacles you have no idea about.” 

Following Visability93, a design project to raise awareness for invisible disabilities, Maya placed posters on the wall next to the CODE kitchen area with many icons for some of the most common invisible disabilities. Next to the posters, there were stickers so that everybody could put a sticker on the icon they identify with. 

Visability 93 posters at CODE
Visability 93 posters at CODE

We asked Maya and Tetiana to share a few pieces of advice on how we could all be more aware of accessibility features. “If you are a designer, check the color contrasts. There is so much information online to educate yourself with, so many tutorials for how to execute accessibility tests, and many different plugins that can screen the website and tell you what can be improved. In general, discover the world of accessibility.”

“I often say to Maya, with your hearing aid, you have a superpower… you can make the world louder, quieter, or even completely mute it.” Tetiana makes a final remark and reminds us all that, as a community, we could and should do more.


 

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With the spread of COVID-19 reaching the level of a global pandemic, it was inevitable for CODE University of Applied Sciences and the digital pioneers that we needed to make some changes. That’s why we decided very early to take action and are now happy to announce that almost all our learning formats take place as usual, but remotely.⁣ It is our responsibility to contribute as much as we can to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Although this poses a big challenge and opportunity to the CODE community, students, faculty and staff, we are working every day on a range of support measures for everyone individually and CODE as a whole to ensure that we maintain a community despite being remote.

So, how are we doing this?

Much more than in physical classrooms – all of a sudden there is an awkward silence. With only one click, students can leave the call without explanation. In-person, students think twice before walking without explanation.

Like many others in this situation, we didn’t have time to plan, but we are aware that, as digital pioneers, we do have an advantage that many other universities and companies don’t have. Earlier in March, from the point when the whole situation started to seem inevitable, we started to think about the equipment. Knowing that our professors will need our full support for the upcoming weeks, we asked them to write down the equipment they need in order to create the best possible learning experience in a remote teaching setup. It seems it’s all about the mic! And, of course, remote conferencing tools.

Online teaching definitely poses a challenge and we do know that through the screen everything fundamentally changes. Our Software Engineering professor Peter Ruppel writes extensively about his experience here on the blog. Even with perfect equipment and tools (and we know that perfection doesn’t exist), there are still obstacles. Much more than in physical classrooms – all of a sudden there is an awkward silence. With only one click, students can leave the call without explanation. In-person, students think twice before walking without explanation. But most importantly, our task now is to create a participatory environment and nurture engaging discussions – there is a moment when sticky notes turn into chat lines.

Students agree that learning units are working really well for now and are mostly positively surprised how smoothly everything has gone in the first few days, while professors and lecturers are giving their best to keep it interactive and engaging. Software Engineering student Maurice says that the learning units were “great and well prepared,” and what was especially valuable for him was the access to different virtual rooms for working in pairs.

Selma, also a Software Engineering student, shared her thoughts on remote teamwork: “We will try out different tools: Google Meet, Tandem, using Notion for documentation; and evaluate each week if it is working for us. Even though we actually did remote meetings before, it still takes quite some time to adjust to the new full remote set up.”

We are helping our students with a few clever tips like staying away from the couch but also super useful ones about the tools they are using, to help them to keep up with the routine, to stay in touch with the team members, and help them to cope with physical distancing.

Julia, a Product Management student, is a team coach and she feared it would be difficult to continue with team coaching remotely, but it turned out to be quite the opposite. “So far our calls seem more efficient than when we meet in person. These calls also reinforced the value of having a moderator or one person who leads the session. However, we are still experimenting with how many (and how long) sessions are required for us to stay aligned and move forward together,” she explains.

Our chancellor Tom created a virtual CODE cap augmented reality lens for video calls

We’ve been following many useful resources with practical guides for remote setups. Rule number one: be transparent with our community and give regular updates. Throughout the media, the news is dominated by paranoia, horrifying numbers, and negativity. “CODE has set itself apart from the negativity”, says Graham, an Interaction design student. “Taking decisive and science-based action, creating a support network for all, setting benchmarks for the following weeks, and being transparent all the way throughout. The way that faculty, staff, and a handful of students have taken action to put our campus online is inspiring. The effort to preserve our culture as it is another aspect of our learning experience has reminded me why I study at CODE,” he wrote in a Slack message.

We are helping our students with a few clever tips like staying away from the couch but also super useful ones about the tools they are using, to help them to keep up with the routine, to stay in touch with the team members, and help them to cope with physical distancing.

Our president Manuel with a virtual CODE campus background during a video call

Strongly believing that nothing can keep the CODE community apart, not even being remote, we do our best to stay connected and keep the CODE spirit up. Every morning, we start the day by sharing helpful ideas and tips for remote working, learning, and living. On Mondays at 5 pm, we have a CODE Spirit Day, during which we do something fun together.

In the meantime, students and staff members are offering different activities to the community: yoga sessions on Wednesdays, daily coffee and lunch breaks, deep-dive sessions where students can focus on their goals and support each other, weekly chess tournaments, and much more. Since that we all miss our campus piano, a couple of students and professors initiated the CODE Italian Balconies project to allow community members to make music together.

We will all get through this together – #CODEremote #staypositive #stayconnected #staymotivated #stayhealthy


 

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Author: Peter Ruppel, Professor at CODE 

One week ago, I switched to 100% remote teaching. This includes all of my four courses, office hours, student project consulting and personal mentoring – like every other faculty member at CODE University of Applied Sciences. So far, our remote setup works pretty good and the feedback we are getting from our students is very encouraging.

What did we do?

On March 11, 2020 –right in the middle of our ongoing spring semester– CODE decided to precautionary shut down all campus activities starting from March 16, 2020 in order to #flattenthecurve. By that time and until today (March 23) there has been no confirmed Covid-19 case at CODE.

Also on March 11, various immediate measures were taken to transition our in-person and project-based learning format into a remote learning community.

To cut a long story short, this is my personal list for what I think have been the most important success factors so far:

Communication:

  • Very timely and clear announcements by the management. Always communicate what is going to happen, where to find the information, put everything in writing, and always explain when the next update on a topic will be available. Luckily, our entire university is on Slack, which helps a lot with direct communication.
  • Collect Feedback, feedback, feedback: what works for you, may not work for others.
  • Have a strong mentor network already established. At CODE, every student has a personal mentor. That allows us to get feedback very fast and to reach out to every student personally.

Tools:

  • Audio quality matters. Get a really good microphone. This is the number one top item for remote calls and video conferences. I am currently using a “t.bone SC 420 USB”, which is a large diaphragm studio microphone (the sound quality is similar to what you hear in a professionally produced podcast). The microphone has a built-in audio interface, i.e., it connects via USB plug-and-play to my laptop computer and works seamlessly with every conferencing software such as Google Meet, Zoom, Jitsi, Skype, etc.
  • Learn how to properly speak into a large diaphragm microphone. They are very different from regular phone headsets. You have to make sure to talk straight into the direction of the microphone and maintain a constant close proximity (about 20cm). Also the audio settings in your computer’s operating system matter a lot. For example, on my MacBook Pro, the optimal input volume setting for the t.bone SC 420 USB is at about 25%. In addition, a studio arm for your microphone helps a lot to position the microphone comfortably. I am personally very happy with the “RODE PSA1” arm.
  • Get some really good headphones. This is very crucial for two reasons: 1) without headphones, i.e., when just using external speakers, your microphone will record parts of that sound and other parties will hear an echo in your voice. 2) You want to be able to wear them comfortably for a couple of hours every day. I am currently using the “AKG K240 MK II” headphones: the sound quality is superb, the headphones are very lightweight and they feel just right.
  • Get a good external webcam. The built-in cameras of laptops are sometimes ok-ish, however, the low angle of the camera picture looks awkward and also the white balance is often poor. I am currently using an external “Logitec C920” webcam that has 1080p and a tripod-ready clip.
  • Make sure that the sound and light conditions in your remote working environment are good. Consider additional lights on and behind your desk. If your room is noisy, consider buying an acoustic screen for your microphone to reduce the influence of the room in microphone recordings.
  • Use the best online tools for the job. At CODE, we are all using Google’s G Suite extensively together with Slack, Discord, Confluence, Zoom, Miro, Notion, Figma and several other great tools. For smaller classes, Google Meet is great (because it also integrates very nicely with other services such as Calendar, Classroom, or Mail). Zoom also has some really great features such as breakout sessions, extensive audio settings, a much better chat than Google Meet, and a feature to let students indicate their reactions. At CODE, we are currently heavily experimenting with almost all major products in order to find out what works best for which learning environment. For example, I already used Google Jamboard on my iPad as an interactive whiteboard in several of my classes, which turned out to be very useful.
  • Learn the keyboard shortcuts for all your remote tools. How to quickly mute/unmute yourself, how to switch to the chat window, how to rearrange the window layout of your applications when you are screensharing, how to open the audio/video settings – basically you want to do all that quickly without using your trackpad/mouse.
  • Testing: schedule at least one hour with a colleague and thoroughly test your entire setup. How is your audio quality? How to use your secondary display during a screen sharing session? Does the calendar invite link work for everyone? Are all your tools also available even for exotic Linux distributions?

Pedagogics:

  • One of the great benefits of remote teaching: you can always see all names right next to the faces in the video conference :-) That helps a lot to get a discussion started!
  • During remote teaching, make sure to focus even more on the discussion of open questions. Keep input sessions shorter than usual. Also have shared collaborative online documents or whiteboards open all the time to keep the interaction threshold as low as possible.
  • Individual student consulting matters even more during remote learning. I have significantly increased my (now remote) office hours, which all students can easily book via my shared calendar.
  • Open-line office hours. Several times per week, I have my personal video conferencing room open for one or two hours and students can just drop in to ask quick questions without the need to schedule an appointment beforehand.
  • During online courses, plan for more breaks than you would usually do during an in-person meeting.
  • Remote teaching requires even more preparation than in-person courses. For every session, all material needs to be distributed beforehand, make sure to distribute all links to the tools that are going to be used during the course ahead of time.

Morale:

  • Actively plan for socializing in your daily schedule. For example, at CODE the entire team can join a video call every day at 8:30 where we mostly have a coffee together and also discuss some open issues. Let others know how you are doing and listen to learn what others are struggling with at the moment.
  • Regardless of the drastic effects of the current pandemic (which I absolutely do not want to downplay here!), we are also going through the biggest test for remote teaching and remote learning ever. We should embrace that opportunity and make the most out of it!

Peter Ruppel - remote professor

Stay healthy and keep on learning!

And to all CODE students and the entire staff and faculty: you are amazing!


 

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Lotta Melcher is a #thirdparty Software Engineering student at CODE. We spoke to her about her motivations, challenges, her time at CODE and role models. 

It’s 2020, and women in tech are still facing discrimination. Despite improvements, there is still a lot of work to do until tech fields are truly equal. Young girls around the globe are getting more and more excited about science, technology and math, yet, there are still hurdles preventing women from taking their place in the tech field.

Last year, The New York Times published a lengthy feature about teenager Mary Allen Wilkes. Back in the 50s, her geography teacher told her that she should be a computer programmer when she grew up. In response, a few years later, and without prior knowledge, Mary marched into M.I.T. and to the school’s employment office, asking after the profession of computer programming. They had an opening and hired her on the spot. Back then, the discipline didn’t exist in the way we know it now, and almost nobody had experience with coding.

Young girls around the globe are getting more and more excited about science, technology and math, yet, there are still hurdles preventing women from taking their place in the tech field.

The story of Mary Wilkes is one of many similar stories about the forgotten female programmers who created modern tech. We are a private university in the field of digital product development. Every year we are endeavoring to receive more applications from women, and we’re always reflecting on what we can do better.

Lotta with her colleagues

Lotta Melcher is a Software Engineer at CODE. Like many female programmers, Lotta’s interest started with video games. The world of video games put her in touch with other – mostly male – peers and colleagues. “Playing video games is how I got into contact with guys who were studying or working in the software engineering area, and it made me more interested.”

But Lotta’s interest in science didn’t just start there. She says she was “always into software engineering”, but also that her earlier education didn’t encourage her interest enough. Despite this, in the coming years, she chose to study many science-oriented courses, but her experience resonates with those of many female peers: it was predominately boys in the classrooms, no girls.

Lotta pokes fun at herself at this point. “I was a stereotypical wannabe programmer: lonely gamer and people around me thought that I was antisocial because I was playing a lot of video games.” But Lotta had something that proved fundamental: the support of her parents. Even if the traditional school system didn’t nurture her interest in computer science, Lotte’s parents did, supporting something that would secure her a better future. So far, it seems, studying software engineering did precisely that.

We wanted her to be frank about her time at CODE, too. Although she was into video games, her first serious encounter with coding was here. “Great experience. When I needed their help, my male peers were encouraging and helpful, but not from a patronizing standpoint, but like peer-to-peer.” She hopes to enter the job market soon and to work in a more diverse team. “Tech community is hopefully shifting, people are getting more sensitive, and sometimes the prejudice comes out of unawareness. But working in a diverse team is important – the work is better, and it’s more fun.”

Tech community is hopefully shifting, people are getting more sensitive, and sometimes the prejudice comes out of unawareness. But working in a diverse team is important – the work is better, and it’s more fun.

In recent years, we’ve seen many organizations and movements like Girls who Code  come to life, with “a mission to close the gender gap in technology and to change the image of what a programmer looks like and does.” Lotta now regrets that she hadn’t started coding sooner, bringing us to the topic of role models.

Growing up, Lotta didn’t have many, and later in life, she had to discover them on her own. And while role models on television, media, and pop culture are necessary, we are often seeing stereotypical female hackers who can “magically hack”, undervaluing the skills behind computer science and hiding the nuance involved in the tasks. Being visible as a woman in coding is important to her: “Real role models are important, and maybe I can be one,” she concludes.


 

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The great demand for skilled software developers has led to the launch of more than 300 so called Coding Bootcamps in the last years, mainly in the US but also worldwide. The promise of these camps sounds tempting, but what lies behind it? Will these bootcamps soon replace entire study programs?

“Learn software development in 12 weeks and kickstart your career as a successful programmer.” – many bootcamps advertise their programs with this appealing promise.

Many Camps don’t even charge a fee upfront but take a percentage of the first earnings after completing the program instead. Others guarantee to return the tuition fees if the participant is not able to find a decent job as a software developer after having completed the program. Accordingly many programs charge a high price of up to $20.000.

Now the first Coding Bootcamps like Stackademy or Hackership have entered the German market. The German Startup CareerFoundry on the other hand offers six-months e-learning courses in the fields of web development, UX design and UI design and guarantees your money back if you haven’t found the job of your dreams within six months after completing the program.

The question is: Can they deliver on that promise or are they just exploiting the hopes of people who look for a quick way to start or boost their career in software development? In other words: Do these programs only offer factual knowledge that will be outdated soon or are they able to provide their participants with skills and abilities that will help them to keep up with the dynamic development of technology 10 years from now and to have a long and successful career.

Over 16,000 people graduated from coding bootcamps last year According to the Bootcamp Market Size Study 2015 by Course Report

Looking at the growing numbers, many participants seem to believe the promises. In the United States the number of graduates grew from 6,740 in 2014 to over 16,000 in 2015 according to the estimates of Course Report. Revenue has increased correspondingly from $52 million to $172 million in this sector.

A recent survey among 665 graduates from 44 different Coding Schools indicates, that most of the programs live up to their promise – at least in a short term view. 4 months after completing the program, 89 percent of graduates had a new job, their salary rose by an average of $18,000, making the average tuition of $11,852 for a Boot Camp program a good investment.

Bootcamp-Graduates

Looking at these figures it is hard not to extensively agree with those who see coding bootcamps as the future of education and at the same time proclaim the downfall of existing computer science programs. Roshan Choxi writes about his (as co-founder of a bootcamp perhaps not entirely unbiased) view on the subject in his article “Coding bootcamps are replacing computer science degrees” and gives as an example a quote from Daniel Gelernter, CEO of tech startup Dittach:

The thing I don’t look for in a developer is a degree in computer science. University computer science departments are in miserable shape: 10 years behind in a field that changes every 10 minutes. Computer science departments prepare their students for academic or research careers and spurn jobs that actually pay money. They teach students how to design an operating system, but not how to work with a real, live development team.

There isn’t a single course in iPhone or Android development in the computer science departments of Yale or Princeton. Harvard has one, but you can’t make a good developer in one term. So if a college graduate has the coding skills that tech startups need, he most likely learned them on his own, in between problem sets. As one of my developers told me: ‘The people who were good at the school part of computer science—just weren’t good developers.’ My experience in hiring shows exactly that.

[…] But my lead developer didn’t graduate from college, and neither did my other full-stack developer. I do have one developer with a degree in electrical engineering: did he learn any of his development skills in college, I ask? No.

Are coding bootcamps the better alternative to higher education programs? Do the existing universities have to fear this development? Once again, the graduate survey provides interesting insights. According to the survey the average participant is 31 years old, has already 7.5 years of working experience and (in almost 80 percent of the participants) at least a bachelor’s degree. Less than three percent of respondents have no college experience at all.

Almost 80% of bootcamp participants have at least a bachelor’s degree According to the Alumni Outcomes & Demographics Study 2015 by Course Report

What does it mean that most of those who successfully finish a coding bootcamp already have a higher education degree? Could it be that this exact combination of an existing academic education, several years of working experience and a high-intensity coding training is the key to success?

In a way these bootcamp graduates with an academic degree in a different subject are what Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO, describes as T-shaped professionals.

It fits the picture that most criticism of CS graduates is aimed at their missing ability to cooperate with “non-techies” and their lack of practical, communicative and social skills.

In contrast, the typical bootcamp graduate had already gained the academic and social learning experience associated with a bachelor’s degree as well as expert knowledge from his former field of study before starting the bootcamp. This makes him much more capable of communicating and cooperating with “non-techies”.

Some universities have already begun to understand bootcamps not as a threat but as a chance and to integrate them into their existing programs. This can be seen as a sign of openness, but also as an indication that these universities have recognized the weakness of their study programs, but are not able or willing to make changes accordingly.

The average tuition for a bootcamp is $11,000 According to the Bootcamp Market Size Study 2015 by Course Report

Should we therefore advise young people to seek out some academic degree and then attend a Coding Bootcamp? Probably not. Instead, the question should be: How should an educational program be designed to combine the advantages of an academic educational experience with those aspects that account for the attractiveness of Coding Bootcamps in the eyes of the participants and the future employers?

Imagine a project-based study program, in which the students start working on challenging projects from day one instead of sitting passively in theory lectures. The teachers act as coaches and assist their students in their professional and personal development and help them to acquire the necessary theoretical and methodological knowledge at a time, when the practical relevance of this knowledge can be derived from project experience.

A study program like this would provide a setting in which the intensive project experience would be embedded in a larger learning context that enables a guided development of theoretical, social and communicative skills. All graduates of such a program would have a track record of successful projects as well as an extensive network of potential employers or co-founders provided by the projects they have worked on.

“Welcome to the future of computer science education” says the homepage of Make School

In parts this approach is realized by startups like Make School and Holberton School, both located in San Francisco. They both offer a two-year project-based education program, positioned as college replacement. In our opinion a very promising approach that combines the best of both worlds.

Let’s hope that the existing universities do not consider the success of coding bootcamps a threat but an impulse to revise their own study programs and modernize their teaching and learning strategies.

And what about the idea of a project-based study program as described above – if there is not already such a university, we should really build one


Upcoming blog post: Why coding bootcamps are significantly more successful in attracting female participants than existing study programs in Germany and the US and what we can learn from this observation when it comes to motivating significantly more women to choose a career in digital.

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One thing we come across quite often when discussing our ideas about modern tech education is the confusion between computer science and software engineering.

Whether we look at studies describing the digital skill shortage in the workforce and the consequences for our economy, at job descriptions from employers in search of ICT professionals or at politicians demanding more and better educational programs aimed at digital competences – in most cases there is no clear definition of the skills profile in question. ICT Professionals, Developers, Programmers, Software Engineers, Computer Scientists – all too often are they used as synonyms.

If Europe needs 825.000 ICT professionals until 2020, does it mean everybody should study computer science?

Of course not.

Computer science is about taking complex problems and deriving a solution from math, science and computational theory.David Budden in “Degrees Demystified

Computer Scientists are first and foremost scientists. They possess a deep knowledge of the theoretical foundations in mathematics and information science and can develop complex algorithms and advance scientific research. They operate in a world of rigorous analyses, clearly defined concepts and proven facts.

The digital skills in demand as described by employers, labor market studies and politicians are of a different kind. They involve the ability to interact with human beings and to create easy to use software solutions for real world problems with limited resources in a highly unreliable and dynamically changing environment.

David Budden describes the difference in his analysis as follows:

Where computer science is about taking complex problems and deriving a solution from mathematics, science and computational theory, software engineering is very much focused around designing, developing and documenting beautiful, complete, user-friendly software.

Chuck Connell uses the following analogy in his article “Software Engineering ≠ Computer Science“:

Imagine a brilliant structural engineer who is the world’s expert on building materials, stress and strain, load distributions, wind shear, earthquake forces, etc. Architects in every country keep this person on their speed-dial for every design and construction project. Would this mythical structural engineer necessarily be good at designing the buildings he or she is analyzing? Not at all. Our structural engineer might be lousy at talking to clients, unable to design spaces that people like to inhabit, dull at imagining solutions to new problems, and boring aesthetically. Structural engineering is useful to physical architects, but is not enough for good design. Successful architecture includes creativity, vision, multi-disciplinary thinking, and humanity.

As does successful software engineering.

Why is this distinction so important?

  1. Because it helps to choose a study program that fits one’s abilities: Many have what it takes to become a successful software developer but lack the mathematical interest or ability to succeed in computer science. We cannot afford to discourage these young talents from choosing a career in software engineering, especially because – as Sarah Mei lays out in her article “Programming is not math”: “Learning to program is more like learning a new language than it is like doing math problems. And the experience of programming today, in industry, is more about language than it is about math.”
  2. Because it helps to choose a study program that meets expectations: Starting computer science studies to become a software developer is probably going to be disappointing, because Computer Science is more a “degree in applied mathematics” than a “degree where you learn how to code”, as David Budden puts it. The dropout rates in computer science programs (at some German universities as high as 40%) are a depressing monument to this confusion.
  3. Because it helps politicians and institutions to identify the approaches and instruments that improve tech education and contribute to closing the digital skills gap.
  4. Because it helps employers to better understand where to look for future employees that support their growth and successfully drive the digital transformation.
  5. Because it helps us understand how to design a study program that produces graduates with competence profiles that enable them to become successful software developers and that meet the demands of future employers.

Software engineering is very much focused around designing, developing and documenting beautiful, complete, user-friendly software.David Budden in “Degrees Demystified

We are not trying to diminish the importance of computer science as a discipline or computer scientists as a driving force of digital innovation and advancement in scientific research. But the vast majority of the 800.000 digital professionals missing in the European labor market in the year 2020 do not have the competence profile of a computer science major. They need to be creative problem solvers with communication and soft skills and the ability to utilize scientific innovations to make a difference in real life.


A note about Germany: While the education system in English-speaking countries at least offers the distinction between computer science and software engineering, the German education system almost exclusively talks about “Informatik” (information science) meaning the science of systematic information processing. There are variations like “Angewandte Informatik” (applied information science), “Technische Informatik” (technical information science) or “Medieninformatik” (media information science), but the starting point of any discussion in this field is Informatik. Due to a strong dual education system (combining an apprenticeship in a company with vocational training at a vocational school) the role of German universities was traditionally focussed on scientific education while looking down on the idea of teaching hands-on knowledge and skills with practical relevance with regard to future employers. As a consequence the need for a software engineering study program as alternative to information science is even greater in Germany (as this commentator elaborates).


In our next post we will take a look at the reaction of the education industry to the existing demand for software engineers: the staggering amount and perceived success of coding bootcamps.


Study at CODE: Bachelor of Arts in Software Engineering

CODE is a newly founded university in Berlin with a revolutionary project-based learning approach. In our admission process, we challenge your ambition and talent. We’re still taking applications for September 2019 until the mid of July! Go ahead and apply now.