Get coding people: It's the new Mandarin, and it's not just children who can learn how to do it

Come September, it will be taught in schools – and clubs. Susie Mesure gets a lesson in basic computer-speak

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The Independent Online

Forget Mandarin and don't bother with Arabic. To get ahead in 2014 it's all about Java and Ruby, if not Python and PHP. And if you're wondering what I'm on about, then you obviously haven't received the Government's memo: this is the year of code.

But bizarrely, on the very day that Lottie Dexter, ambassador for the whole initiative, launched the programme, she was forced to admit on air that she didn't have the first clue what coding was all about, because she hasn't learnt how to do it – yet.

However, The Independent on Sunday promises you can avoid similar embarrassment by reading on....

Coding is nothing more than the language you use to give instructions to a computer to make it do something – the digital language it speaks. There are lots, from Javascript (which is nothing like Java) to C++, which is most definitely not the same as C#.

The simplest way to code is to have a go at one of the many online tutorials. Try Codeacademy: with two clicks you can be on your way to learning Python. Or Ruby. Or PHP. If that's a bit daunting, there's Google Blockly, which is perfect for children because you do not have to type anything – but you do need to be able to read.

Or, if you think you might like a little personal guidance, you could try one of the intensive day sessions run by Decoded. John Ridpath, its head of product, promises you'll be building your own – simple – website after just one day. It will cost you around £500 if you do a Saturday session; slightly more if your company pays – but it will cram a lot in.

An option for those aged nine to 11 is to find a free after-school code club, or children could join a CoderDojo. These volunteer-run clubs are free, and open to anyone aged five to 17.

Coding is not only for schoolkids keen to get ahead before Michael Gove introduces it to the curriculum from September, but for you and me. Programming is like one big logic puzzle, because it's all "if this, then that", so it beats Sudoku for a spot of mental gymnastics. But that's no excuse to leave it to the children. As Mr Ridpath points out, most businesses these days have become tech companies to some extent, because of the need for an online presence.

And Adam Ball from Coding Cupboard, an outfit that launches this week as a conduit to connect small businesses with student coders, adds that what with all the scare stories about Google and Facebook hoarding people's data, wouldn't it be good if you were "empowered to analyse that data?"

Then there's the job market. A recent O2 report warned that the UK will need an extra 750,000 new "digital workers" by 2017 to keep up with demand. There simply aren't enough to go round, which means big pay cheques for the few.

If all that hasn't convinced you, then just heed the words of Bill Liao, founder of CoderDojo, who says the "best programmers are poets. Brilliant code is like poetry". And who wouldn't like to be able to write beautiful poetry?

Even Ms Dexter intends to give it a go. Asked about her much-maligned Newsnight admission, she said: "I'm leading this campaign because I want to encourage people who would never even have considered coding to give it a go. As I learn, I will post a weekly diary to share my experiences and believe this will help encourage others to join our journey.I'm not asking anyone to do anything that I am not prepared to do alongside them."

The challenge is on.