Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Yes, Coding is Hard

I was recently perusing some online message boards and came across several postings with a resounding theme: Is coding really that hard? In a word, yes. If coding was easy, it would be easy to get a job. You wouldn’t need those 2 years of experience just to get your foot in the door. And although I want to maintain a positive can-do attitude to anyone pursuing a career in coding, I sometimes forget to exercise a little tough love and make sure that people understand exactly what they are getting themselves into and what will be expected of them.

First of all, not everyone can be a coder. Yes, there is training involved, but some people, even with years of training, will never be successful coders. So often we hear someone trying out for American Idol who has no business singing in public and we may wonder, “What made him think he could sing?” Well, the same applies to coding, albeit, in a different way. Some people aren’t detail oriented enough or don’t like medical terminology enough or can’t cope with frequent guideline changes from payers. When I hear potential coders complaining about such things, I wonder why they want to be coders.

Secondly, many people enter into coding so they can work from home. When I ask someone why he wants to be a coder and his first words are, “I want to work from home,” I usually probe a little deeper. I want to know how potential coders feel about working long hours in front of a computer with little human interaction. I want to know how well they can concentrate on their work and how detail oriented they are. I want to know if they are willing to put in weeks, months, or even years at a hospital or clinic before being released to work from home. I want to know if they are in love with coding or just the idea of coding.

Being a coder means knowing a lot of medical terminology, anatomy and physiology, disease process, and being able to read a medical record and piece together the patient’s clinical picture and translate them into codes. It’s about “peeling the onion” – that is, consistently learning more and being okay with the fact that you will never know it all. If that doesn’t sound like fun to you then coding isn’t for you.

So if you decided on a career in coding because the pay sounded good or it would allow you to work from home, I ask you to pose some hard questions to yourself. Are you willing to put in the time and effort to get the career you think you want? If you are, then let me be the first to welcome you to a rewarding career in coding. If you’re not, I encourage you to find a career you will be passionate about.