Sure, Accounting Students Should Learn How to Code (And a Lot of Other Things, Too)

Over at the AICPA's website, there's a post that makes the case for accounting students to learn how to code. It's hard to disagree with the premise — coding is a valuable skill — but there are several aspects to this topic that go unmentioned, that I'll try to cover here.

First and foremost, anyone who wants to, can learn how to code. It does not need to be part of a college curriculum. The post doesn't acknowledge this, but it does link to sites like code.org, codeacademy.com and khanacademy.org/computing/computer-programming. However, it quotes several accounting professors and suggests "tips can help faculty members who believe coding is important for their students’ success," implying that the academic settings is the most appropriate venue for this to occur. The reality is, if an accounting student really wants to learn how to code (s)he can do it. FOR FREE! AT HOME! No more pencils, no more books, etc. etc.

Second, maybe it's obvious, maybe it's not, but it should be mentioned that any concerted push of programming as a skill is likely driven by BIG CPA. The post appears on the AICPA's website, it cites PwC's February 2015 report on data's role in students learning and it mentions KPMG's quest for recruits with coding skills:

KPMG LLP seeks out dual majors in accounting and technology when recruiting for several of its advisory services groups, said Annie Schmal, associate director of the firm’s on-campus recruiting team. One of those groups focuses largely on post-merger accounting work because complex databases are required. In this area, CPAs need to be highly technical, with skills in Visual Basic programming. For its forensic technology practice, KPMG also looks for candidates who have Visual Basic programming, as well as .net programming and SQL skills, she said.

The largest firms have determined that the skillset of their recruits needs more technology and so they talk about the importance of coding with college professors. Then some programs incorporate it where they can:

While very few accounting programs require students to learn to code, some strongly encourage students to consider it. Brigham Young University’s School of Accountancy is creating several master’s-level classes on dealing with data in accounting. These classes will focus not only on manipulating, analyzing, and reporting data, but on coding as well.

David Wood, Ph.D., an assistant professor who is one of the faculty members designing this coursework, said the classes will include learning some SQL and Visual Basic for Excel, and other programming concepts.

“Writing code is a tool, and if you have that tool, it provides you an opportunity to do things that others can’t,” he said. “Would coding benefit an accountant? There’s no question it can help.

This is not entirely in the interest in recruits with expanded skills. Incorporating programming and related education into the curriculum would solidify master's programs even further and those schools that don't have the resources to expand may start getting the cold shoulder from the largest firms. Oh, and the more education accounting graduates obtain, the easier it is for accounting firms to argue that they are "learned professionals," thereby minimizing the risk of wage and hour lawsuits.

Third, broaching this topic opens the door to more questions about the sufficiency of accounting curriculum. We all know accountants lack some skills and the argument can be made that coding is one of them. But in the realm of immediate skills accounting students needs, should computer science come before management or corporate accounting? I'll bet the IMA and its Competency Crisis project don't think so. Again, BIG CPA seems to be using its influence to shape the future of accounting programs to its prerogative, regardless if it serves the interests of most accounting students. Call it a hunch.

It's strange to think about what the future of accounting education might become. On the one side, you have big accounting firms saying that STEM education is becoming increasingly important; then you have the IMA and others saying that corporate accounting, financial planning and analysis education is woefully inadequate. There's even a segment out there that believe auditors need expanded education in psychology, criminology, forensics and yes, technology to better combat fraud. They're all pretty legitimate arguments, yet, the capacity of accounting programs are stretched pretty thin already and most schools don't have the ability to expand.

It's tough to argue that the current educational foundation for accounting majors is sufficient. The majority of accounting majors do not end up having long-term careers in public accounting and but that's the focus of the curriculum.

Over to you, now. Should programming be part of the accounting curriculum? If so, how should it fit in? If programs are going to expand, are there other courses that should take priority? Tell us below. 

Should accounting students learn to code? [AICPA]
Earlier: Accountants Lack Some Skills

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