Tech Giants Promote Video With A Simple Message: Kids Need to Learn Programming

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What kind of movement would Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg, Twitter founder Jack Dorsey, Gabe Newell of Valve, and Microsoft’s Bill Gates all back enthusiastically? A call for more computer programmers, specifically really young ones.

The nonprofit organization Code.org recently commissioned a short film titled What Most Schools Don’t Teach that profiled some of the most recognizable names in technology, along with musician will.i.am and Chris Bosh of the Miami Heat, to put out a call to get kids excited about something that is shrouded in geekitude: computer programming. In the short video, each technophile takes their turn diffusing some misconceptions about learning to program and relating what coding means to them personally.

For example, Zuckerberg relays his own programming in his early days: “Learning how to program didn’t start off as wanting to learn all of computer science, or trying to master this discipline, or anything like that. It just started off because I wanted to do this one simple thing: I wanted to make something that was fun for myself and my sisters.” He added, “I wrote this little program and then basically added a little bit to it. When I needed to learn something new, I looked it up in a book or on the Internet, and just added a little bit to it.”

The film strongly drives home two main messages: coding is not as hard/geeky/foreign as you think and it’s as vital to your future career as any subject in school (perhaps more so). Considering how rapidly automation is replacing jobs, coding offers both a way for future generations to stay competitive as well as contribute to the revolution that will make new technologies like robots commonplace.

Check out the video to see for yourself:

Code.org has the solitary mission of “growing computer programming education,” and toward this end, getting superstar endorsements is an important marketing strategy. In fact, the video is only a sampling of people in the world of technology, politics, and entertainment that have given their support to code.org’s cause. The front page of the site includes a long list of quotes reiterating the importance of teaching a generation of kids to program. The site also allows teachers to sign up in order to find ways to bring programming courses to their schools.

Fortunately, learning to code is now easier than ever. Beyond the numerous tutorials that are freely available for programming languages, such as Python, numerous sites have sprung up to teach coding, such as the kid-friendly Scratch, the lessons from Codecademy, and the ever popular Khan Academy. Additionally, new approaches for learning to code include Code Racer, which uses a racing game to teach coding.

Access to programming education is vital because, as the video drives home, the demand for computer programming skills will only be increasing in the future. Code.org estimates that by 2020 there will be a surplus of a million computer jobs beyond what the approximately 400,000 computer science students will occupy. At the same time, only one in 10 schools offers computer programming classes.

statistics from Code.org

Though it is helpful to see the deconstruction of each of these tech leaders’ experience with coding, it is also noteworthy that many got introduced to the subject in school, but at some point started down a path of self learning. It is one of the challenges of modern education to emphasize teaching a subject that the superstars will inevitably learn mostly out of the classroom.

Perhaps the real problem with how educators view computer programming is that it is framed within the context of computer science. Coding, in many ways, is much more like a language course, except that one learns to communicate with a computer rather that a person. Because a computer only thinks and expresses itself in certain ways, learning to speak to it involves breaking down what you want it to do in logical instructions, and then looking for feedback from it to make sure it comprehends.

At its heart, coding is an amalgam of skills that are rarely taught directly, but students pick up from various formal coursework or from simply learning it themselves through trial-and-error, much as other creative types like writers and artists do.

Computer science, on the other hand, falls into more traditional courses of mathematics and science and crosses into areas like electronics (physics), organizational patterns (biology), number crunching (statistics), and computer architecture (engineering). That isn’t to say coding and computer science don’t overlap — obviously, they are interdependent disciplines — but it is to say that when people talk about the “art of coding,” they are referring to a much different way of thinking than is emphasized in science and math education.

The proliferation of technology in future decades suggests something even more pressing: coding even at the most basic level may be a prerequisite to being a member of society. After all, if machines in various forms will be abundant, then the communication concepts within programming will be exercised as part of daily life.

The coming age of robots will be a lot like an alien race that suddenly moved to Earth to co-habitate with us. If we know in advance that this is going to happen, it only makes sense that we should learn how to speak to them and soon.

Discussion — 11 Responses

  • Improbus Liber February 28, 2013 on 10:39 am

    Those tech giants might want programmers but they don’t want to pay them anything. They keep bringing in H1B workers to depress American tech job wages. Why would anyone with sense want to be a programmer? There is more money in law and business.

    • JoonasVali Improbus Liber March 3, 2013 on 10:32 pm

      What do you mean “but they don’t want to pay them anything” ? You can choose your employer, so I don’t see the point of your demagogue.

      If you only care about the money, you will never be successful at any of these areas. I personally wouldn’t want to do anything with law even if they paid me three times as much as I get from programming. I just can’t stand the law related stuff and have always found it so boring, that I ended up writing drawing or writing binary in the introduction to law course, which was obligatory in my first years of studies.

      Programming isn’t about money, it’s a hobby. When I come home after work I usually continue programming my own personal projects, because I enjoy it.

      Business is connected to IT, we even have a computer science speciality here in Estonia, called Business IT. I personally chose the normal computer science, without flavoring.

      • Improbus Liber JoonasVali March 4, 2013 on 11:30 am

        Demagogue? I just stated the facts. You can make a lot of money programming if you are in the right place at the right time with the right skill set but most programmers and IT people are lucky if they can earn a decent living in the United States.

        I have been working in IT for 10 years and because of the economy I haven’t had a raise in 5 years and I don’t see getting one in the near future (years). I would leave my current employer but getting another technology job at my age would be tough.

        My employer wont even pay for training to keep me up to speed on the latest IT technology. I am supposed to take care of that myself.

        Demagogue. Really?

        • JoonasVali Improbus Liber March 5, 2013 on 12:12 pm

          Well, as you probably know then, IT is a rapidly changing area, with loads of new frameworks, languages and trends surfacing all the time. The person working in this area should be able to learn that stuff on demand without specific training. That’s kind of the point of being the IT guy, you don’t just stagnate, you continue learning when there is a need, otherwise you’ll get outdated like an old programming language. (Still pretty powerful, but everyone uses modern stuff).

          My own and your views on wealth and ‘decent living’ are probably not comparable, as I come from post soviet country with wages 5-10 times lower than you’ll get in US. (Our average yearly salary is around $11316 USD, taxes paid) You would think that prices are also lower, but they are not, they are higher. Gallon of gasoline costs around $7 compared to US $4. Imported technology usually gets 10-20% added cost compared to western prices origin (Computers, iPads, TVs, cars, etc). Big mac costs the same around here as in US. We still manage to live quite good. The computer I’m writing this on, cost an average Estonian 1.5 month income. What takes all of your money, so you don’t get to live decently?

          • Improbus Liber JoonasVali March 8, 2013 on 12:23 pm

            After rent, food, utilities and gasoline I do net some money but I have been saving it for the next disaster to befall me. It is not a matter of if but when. Call me a pessimist.

            “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.” – paraphrase of Murphy’s Law

            “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong at the most inopportune moment.” – my corollary to Murphy’s Law

    • t Improbus Liber March 5, 2013 on 2:31 am

      yes…but are there enough opportunities? For example: With algorithms replacing some paralegals and not enough people getting married/divorced :), the future ‘growth’ of law employment will not be as much as it has been. And patent fights? I think we are already in the peak of it, and patent reform could dampen useless suing/counter suing.

  • User February 28, 2013 on 4:46 pm

    - The video…probably one of the finest examples of modern day societal propaganda 2013. Which doesn’t show a single syntax, command or even an mention of what forms of programming languages are out there as an example in trying to explain ‘what is coding’. And, not a breath mentioned about the different forms of program/application creation: Object-Oriented, WYSIWYG, raw code, etc.

    The explanations of what is programming by Zburger and vaccinate your ass Gates of Hell is a complete joke. And you can tell by the smirks on their faces while they give their hyperbole-bullshit explanations of ‘what is programming’. Gates 8:05 “Addition, subtraction, that’s about it.” Haha! That is such hyperbole bullshit and he knows it!

    All one has to do is ask themself: “If programming is so damn important, why don’t they teach it in institutional education?” Well hell…why don’t they teach you about centralized banking, credit cards, gardening and a whole host of other important life requirement subjects?

    Go figure…

    • DigitalGalaxy User March 2, 2013 on 8:55 pm

      Because institutional education is an anachronism based around a) old 19th century university structures, b) raking in the most money per student, and c) shoving 80 credits of “cultural understanding” courses down a student’s throat when they really just want to learn programming?

      Bring on the Khan academy for higher education…maybe then you won’t have to go into debt for the rest of your life to get educated.

      Although, in the video’s defense, it’s pretty hard to introduce concepts of syntax, OO programming, and different languages in a 2 minute sales pitch. Sure it’s just all smiles; they’re trying to make programming seem easy and important. Try talking about loops and if statements in an advertising video and eyes will start glazing over. Talking about “addition and subtraction, that’s it” may be stretching things quite a bit, but it’s not possible to go into to much more detail than that to an audience that has no idea what an array is.

      • t DigitalGalaxy March 5, 2013 on 2:26 am

        A lot of colleges teach computer programming, but i agree with the rest of your point that other courses are lot in number.

  • DigitalGalaxy March 2, 2013 on 8:42 pm

    Some students need the tools to learn coding. It’s not for everyone; you have to be a very specific kind of person to learn coding. You have to have good attention to detail, and logic or it will drive you crazy. Coding needs to be an elective at all schools, not a requirement.

    Of course, if a student really wants to learn coding, they can do it at their own pace over the net, so it’s not really that big a deal. More after-school coding programs might be more beneficial, to pull in the kids who really are interested.

  • pragya April 2, 2013 on 11:49 pm

    Because institutional pedagogy is an timekeeping based around a) old 19th century lincoln structures, b) raking in the most money per intellectual, and c) shoving 80 credits of “ethnical understanding” courses imbibe a student’s throat when they real conscionable necessary to larn programing?

    Channelize on the Khan institution for higher education…maybe then you won’t tally to go into debt for the breathe of your chronicle to get tutored.

    Although, in the video’s protection, it’s pretty conniving to initiate concepts of structure, OO planning, and contrasting languages in a 2 second income promotion. Sure it’s just all smiles; they’re disagreeable to represent planning seem smooth and chief. Try conversation near loops and if statements in an business recording and eyes faculty play glazing over. Conversation most “increase and decrease, that’s it” may be broad things quite a bit, but it’s not fermentable to go into to such writer item than that to an audience that has no aim what an array is.