04/16/2014 11:00 am ET Updated Jun 16, 2014

No, Not Everyone Needs to Learn to Code - But Here's What They Should Know

Over the last few years we've heard time and again that we should all be queuing up our terminals and learning how to program. Even the President's getting involved, and for good reason: Learning to code can be incredibly rewarding, give you a new appreciation for technology and introduce countless career opportunities. In fact, software development jobs are expected to grow 22 percent between 2012 and 2022--significantly higher than other occupations.

Not everyone is meant to be a coder though--or has the motivation to code. This has left a huge part of the population wondering how to respond to the "learn to code" movement, and what actually makes sense for them to do. It's one of the reasons why I believe the "learn to code" conversation is distracting us from a much more important question, which is this: "What should everyone know about code, even if they don't learn to program?"

A call for basic code literacy

In my view, the answer is basic code literacy, which ultimately boils down to knowing enough to successfully communicate in the technology-powered environment we live in. If your occupation requires you to speak to or email programmers, you'll have a leg up if you have a basic knowledge of code. So, for anyone who doesn't have a desire to become a full-blown programmer, here are two critical steps to become code literate:

1. Learn the Basics of Programming: From "if" conditionals to "for" loops, knowing the basics of programming will help you recognize some of the lingo and logic used by programmers. You'll also understand why things go wrong and bugs occur. And perhaps best of all--the programmers you communicate with will respect you all the more.

What language should you learn? Start by asking the people around your workplace what they use and learn that. If that's not an option I recommend starting with JavaScript. At Code School we have a free JavaScript course that provides a nice introduction to the fundamentals.

2. Learn the Basics of the Web: Every company has a presence on the web these days, don't they? Knowing the basics of HTML & CSS and how they're used to create web pages is a skill that will always be useful. Just like knowing a foreign language, it's helpful in almost all professions. It's also a must-have in many "non-technical" fields these days such as marketing, which is no longer just the realm of ad campaigns and press releases. Today's marketers must A/B test, optimize, analyze, develop landing pages and so much more. There's no way to do a good job of this without at least a basic understanding of HTML and all too often, CSS. General Assembly offers a free HTML & CSS tutorial called Dash that's great for getting started.

If you're already familiar with HTML & CSS and want to step it up a notch, knowing your way around Chrome DevTools is very useful. DevTools allows you to edit HTML and CSS right in your browser. You can use it to see what changes to web pages will look like--such as different fonts and colors--take screenshots, and send them to your programmers or designers to update. Check out the official Chrome DevTools page for thorough instructions. Google also teamed with Code School on a free Chrome DevTools course.

If you're eager to learn to code so you can build your own websites and applications then by all means, dive in. However, if you don't see yourself building your own projects, perhaps you should aim for basic "code literacy". Even learning a little about code can go a long way.

About the Author:
Gregg Pollack is founder of Code School, an online learning destination for existing and aspiring developers that teaches through entertaining content. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @greggpollack.