Learn to Code and “Get Above the API”

I teach very technical classes that often require students to code – in a business school. I am often asked whether business school students (e.g MBA and BBA) should bother learning how to code. I have always responded in the affirmative. I have even been categorical that no college student should graduate without at least knowing how to read a piece of code.

I typically motivate the argument with the slide below: Coding is the new Excel!

My message to my students has been that even if you yourself, as a business student, may not be writing code for a living; you will surely work with, manage and lead people who will write code. Understanding code is going to be essential for you to be a good manager, an effective leader.

Thanks to Derek Gan, one of my bright students in my TO433: Artificial Intelligence for Business class, I now have an alternative motivation. You want to learn coding because you want to “get above the API“. Its a very interesting way of looking at how to get yourself ready for the job market of tomorrow where AI threatens to automate many of the middle management jobs that are the bread and butter of business school student recruiting.

As middle management jobs get replaced by an AI, it creates a divide in the job market. As Peter Reinhardt puts it so eloquently (in reference to companies like Uber):

The software layer between the company and their armies of contractors eliminates a huge amount of middle management, and creates a worrisome disconnect between jobs that will be automated, and jobs of increasing leverage and value.

The software layer, or the API, or the AI, depending upon your preferred nomenclature becomes the dividing line between jobs that are just another cog in the machine with the AI determining every aspect of your job – how many hours you work, how much you get paid, which rides do you pick etc – the Below the API; and jobs where you actually get to design, develop, operate the machine, the AI – the Above the API.

Depending upon how much below the API a job is, it will straight be up automated. So a clear priority for students should be to acquire skills that will keep them Above the API. Coding, Data Analytics, Artificial Intelligence are all part of the picture.

So, my students, you should know how to at least read a piece of code because you want to “Stay Above the API”.

Featured image is borrowed from this Forbes article: Google Cabs And Uber Bots Will Challenge Jobs ‘Below The API’

Update: Included link to the LinkedIn page for Derek.