Video: Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Will.I.Am And Others Urge Kids To Code
When I was a freshman in high school almost 20 years ago—yes, I’m hinting at my age here—I had the opportunity to take a BASIC programming class. My school in a tiny, piss-ant mountain town had the foresight at that time to offer a course that nine out of 10 high schools today don’t include in their curricula. I remember my amazement the first time I created the simplest of programs. It may have been as elementary as a dot bouncing across a screen, but I made it happen.
Unfortunately, I was unable to grasp the full value of the BASIC course at the time—I had no idea the opportunities programming knowledge would avail me later in life. Instead I concerned myself with the teacher—a geek by anyone’s standards and unlike anyone I’d ever met in my small, piss-ant mountain town. I can’t even remember his name now, but can still clearly see the tiny man that made Bill Gates look like Joe Cool. At 14 years old I could have kicked his ass, and he regularly fought back tears when harassed by class bullies. Needless to say, I didn’t “get” his technical teaching style and dropped the class after a semester.
Who knows what turn my life may have taken had I stuck with the unique opportunity my school offered in the early 90s. Had I learned more advanced programming, I might be one of the world’s “new rock stars,” right beside household names like Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Page, Jack Dorsey and Max Levchin. Instead of mastering computer languages, I focused my efforts on mastering the English language; and here I sit writing this piece for you today—a relative unknown.
Of course I’m not alone. As our nation’s unemployment rate sits stagnantly above 7 percent, each year 120,000 new jobs are created for computer programmers. But less than 2.4 percent of college students are graduating with a degree in computer science—less than there were in 2003. In fact, only 2 percent of college students studying math and science are choosing to study computer science, while 60 percent of math and science careers deal with computer programming. By 2020 there will be one million more computer jobs than programming students in the United States. Even now, Silicon Valley lobbyists are trying to get the government to relax immigration rules so they can bring in more qualified programmers from abroad. It’s not that tech companies don’t want to hire US citizens; we just don’t have the necessary skills.
“Computer programming is the single best professional opportunity in the world. We need more Americans in the field,” Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said.
That’s what Code.org hopes to change.
The non-profit venture has recruited some programming rock stars to endorse its efforts to encourage computer education. Its promotional video features testimony from the likes of Bill Gates, Zuckerberg, Dorsey and Will.i.am. It’s Web site also features words of wisdom from the late, great Steve Jobs.
“I think everybody in this country should learn how to program a computer because it teaches you how to think,” Jobs once said in “the lost interview.”
Gates offers similar words of advice:
“Learning to write programs stretches your mind, and helps you think better, creates a way of thinking about things that I think is helpful in all domains.“
But many of the tech superstars speak specifically to the importance of teaching programming to young children, almost like a second language.
Ashton Kutcher also supported the idea of making coding a staple in American schools.
“I’d like to advocate for computer coding to be an institution in the public school systems right next to biology, chemistry, physics, etc. If we want to spur job growth in the US we have to educate ourselves in the disciplines where jobs are available and where economic growth is feasible,” Kutcher said.
Twitter CEO Dick Costolo pretty much hit the nail on the head.
“If you can program a computer, you can achieve your dreams. A computer doesn’t care about your family background, your gender, just that you know how to code. But we’re only teaching it in a small handful of schools, why?“
And so Code.org hopes to bring programming language development to all American children. The site not only offers a list of schools that offer classes in computer programming, but a variety of self-help tutorials for children—and adults—who don’t have access to such classes. It offers tutorials for teachers who would like to bring computer science to their classrooms, and tips on how to establish after-school programs and integrated curriculum. But if the five-minute film doesn’t convince school boards and administrators the value of computer science courses to their student body, it’s unlikely anything ever will. Reddit CEO Yishan Wong explained the need perfectly.
“One hundred years ago, people were faced with the choice of learning to read or remaining illiterate laborers who would be left behind as have-nots in a rapidly modernizing world,” Wong said. “In the coming century, being able to command a world that will be thoroughly computerized will set apart those who can live successfully in the future from those who will be utterly left behind.”
I want more stuff like this!