Hacker-hot, data deep: How Gen Z code literacy could transform travel-tech

Over the last few years, emerging technologies have continued to evolve at a rapid pace essentially unheard of just a decade ago.

And as a result, technology organizations across every industry, including travel, have witnessed the beginning of a power shift that tips the professional scales toward those who are the most technologically savvy and responsive to change amongst the employee base.

But this phenomenon hasn’t come as a surprise. It has occurred with many previous generations in the workplace, although the subject matter and context were different.

Gen Y will one day be on the negative end of this deal

As a Gen Y member with enough knowledge of emerging technologies to be dangerous, I have been fortunate to benefit from this shift during the first decade of my career. However, the thought often crosses my mind that not too many years from now, my generation will inevitably be on the other side of this equation.

Some predict that Generation Z members, by age of 20, will have evidenced the same technology prowess that Generation Y understands at 30.

Thus, to my millennial counterparts — there’s a reason to be paranoid.

And this week, a ReadWriteWeb article proposed a theory that should solidify that paranoia: “What if computer programming evolves into the next form of literacy starting with Gen Z?”

As second-nature as reading and writing is today, coding could become a skill as natural to grade schoolers as memorizing the alphabet.

What if we enabled every grade-school student to have a similar power over machines that they have today with words when communicating?

And in travel…

For each of us navigating the technological travel landscape, how could that type of radical democratization of programming impact our industry?

Startup directory Angel List indicates some 150 travel startups announced their existence or launched in 2012, maintaining a pace that represents nearly one new travel technology startup on average for every day of the year.

Can you imagine the travel technology landscape in a decade or two when the ability to program a travel application is considered a do-it-yourself skill?

And when individuals can hack their own travel experience however they choose?

Yes, please. What would you build first?

The thought of this possibility is exciting, although I’d have to guess there’s a dissenter or two who might argue this would be bad for the industry?

Would it muddy the waters and fragment the market Or could it be the best thing that ever happens to the travel industry?

Is the simple act of putting more concepts into working code in real-life scenarios going to allow us to more easily and realistically test and ultimately identify the “perfect” travel application?

ReadWriteWeb suggests that the potential for technological innovation is unlimited if we put the power of programming into the hands of children at an early age, and I don’t entirely disagree.

But two additional questions remain:

1. If anyone can code and build their own perfect set of applications, and the feature-rich, high-volume applications we use today became less in demand, would we no longer attempt to solve the hard, complex problems? Selfishly, would there be any point to doing so?

2. Or without feature-rich, high-volume apps, are the hard problems actually no longer as difficult?

Regardless of the answer, my personal agenda is the same: Learn to friggin’ code.

Code-driven versus idea-driven outputs as our technology careers evolve

The reason behind that is my inability to code for the last 2-3 years has nagged at me constantly, thus my recent commitment to completing my first web application before another birthday passes. But that desire has purely been based on my personal agenda, not what my professional career requires.

Forbes article on this topic in March discussed the growing interconnectedness between business and technology teams operationally, and yet the unfortunate disconnect knowledge-wise:

The two worlds are getting increasingly intertwined, but at the same time, business people are getting increasingly disconnected from technology. As a result, their intuitions about technological evolution are getting weaker, and people with pure business backgrounds are getting blindsided with increasing frequency by technology developments they didn’t see coming.

One obvious solution is that the business people must also become true technologists. There’s something to be said for an MBA who has taken the time to learn how to code.

Even aside from the literacy debate, at a more basic level, our strategic thinking and business concept-centric mindset may very well decrease in value long-term.

Our tomorrow will require more tangible, code-driven outputs versus the text-heavy, idea-based outputs of today on which little to no real action can actually be taken. Thus, no testing can be performed, and consequently no meaningful data-driven learning can occur.

I need to learn how to code to test and to capture data to learn. And that is more than enough of a reason to renew my commitment to learning to code at 30 — bring it on.

Because at the end of my generation’s prime, there’s one thing that is certain: Our Gen Z counterparts, with their pre-teen braces, are in steady pursuit of our future careers.

The 20-year-old know-it-alls really will know it all inside and outside of travel technology.

They’ll be coming in hacker-hot, data-deep and “Hello, World” happy.

It’s time to get your big-girl coding britches on.

Notes: Here are some online programming resources:

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

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Sarah Kennedy Ellis

About the Writer :: Sarah Kennedy Ellis

Sarah Kennedy Ellis is VP of Marketing for Sabre Hospitality Solutions.

At Sabre since 2007, Sarah has spent time working in a variety of divisions including everything from strategy and product development to social media marketing and R&D.

She was selected as one of the first members of PhoCusWright’s inaugural “Class of 35” in 2009, recognizing the top 35 young leaders under the age of 35 in travel.

She also is invited to speak at a variety of technology conferences & industry events each year on topics including emerging technology and innovation management.

The views expressed by Sarah on Tnooz are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Sabre Holdings, its partners, customers or subsidiaries.



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  1. Adam

    How are you i hope you doing good.
    Myself Adam and working with online line travel company ,our company is very small however i wants to make my company level high and wants to make good profit. We do only “FLIGHTS TICKETS” However nowadays competition is very high and i want know that how do i attract passenger and how to do increase call flow on our website.Please assist me i m waiting for your prompt reply.

  2. Sarah K. Ellis

    I think you both make great points, and I think in my post what I failed to clarify was exactly why I believe learning to code is important for my career.

    Exactly what you touched on Brian is the “why” for me personally in my desire to learn to code – I need to understand intimately the “how” behind the “do” to be an effective future business leader in technology. That’s the motivating factor for me, with the icing on the cake simply being my ability to dabble on the weekend with projects I’ve never explored simply because I was reliant on favors or payments to someone else who has the skills needed to start hacking on my idea.

    In my day-to-day career, I have zero desire nor even close to the technical skills or experience needed to insult my dev teams by attempting to write one line of code alongside their work. That’s their job to master, and is also not where my time and skills are best put to use.

    But again as you said, simply by knowing how my developers actually work day-to-day by understanding their craft personally makes me an infinitely better manager, a more realistic planner and a more informed strategist/decision-maker for my organization.

    And finally, maybe most importantly, learning to code will afford me the basic skills needed to 1) access 2) manipulate and 3) visualize the data & associated intelligence hidden in the depths of my data warehouses without interrupting my developer’s ‘workflow’ with the always incredibly annoying request for yet another report or, even worse, development of a BI dashboard to make up for the technical incompetence of the business leaders those developers work alongside each day.

    By learning to code at even the most basic level, we can not only feel satisfaction in achieving a personal goal… but add significant value to decisions, processes, and people across our technology organizations.

    Thanks again for the comments.

  3. Brian Swanick

    Really interesting article as I think this applies to all industries–but most importantly travel 🙂

    The benefits won’t necessarily be only for those who can code well. It will be beneficial for anyone who has a workable knowledge of the code, allowing them to communicate with those who have the expertise to complete it. I think that’s the most important point to touch on. And,regarding what Vincent mentioned about creativity, that’s very true. But if we can expand our minds to understand what is possible, I think that the innovation will show. We’ve already seen it with the massive redesigns that large travel websites have gone through in the past few years. In the future, it will obviously go beyond HTML.

  4. Vincent

    Sarah, what will you build your web app in and what will it do?

    Programming is great, it changes the way you see the world around you, organize information in your brain and your work whether you decide to code often or not.
    There are 2 things you missed though in my opinion:
    1. Creativity is what makes a project worth coding and most people just don’t have that
    2. Being able to code is one thing, optimizing algorithms for minimal cycle costs is another.

    That is why big websites will always thrive in my opinion. Probably offer APIs for which free or pay per request will serve mediocre programmers like myself 😉


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