All around the United States this week, students have written hundreds of millions of lines of code during Computer Science Education Week, an initiative that pushes to make computer science part of the core curriculum in K-12 schools. The idea was conceived by Hadi Partovi, founder of Code.org, who developed the “Hour of Code” program to inspire ten million students to write one hour of code through tutorials and activities on their website.
From the controls that manage the electric grid down to the equipment that manufactures light bulbs, every aspect of our modern lives are powered by programming — and the people who have these skills are in high demand. According to U.S. Department of Labor statistics, the number of computer-related jobs are projected to grow on average by 22%, with occupations like software developers to increase by 28 – 32%. Fortunately, current initiatives are pushing for computer science curriculum to be widely available in U.S. schools before kids even hit college or the workforce.
Traditionally, you had to major in a discipline like computer science or engineering for programming to be included as part of your official coursework. With the increased integration of modeling and informatics in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields, there is also a high demand for researchers with basic programming knowledge, who can design new programs and communicate with computational scientists. (See this blog post to see how scientists can benefit from learning to program.)
However, it’s not just the younger folks or STEM professionals that need to learn code. Computer science training is a professional development need for employees in many fields. As an example, I recently took an intermediate-level Microsoft SharePoint training course to learn how to develop business tools on this software platform. The software is relatively intuitive for the end user, but the use of advanced features, such as creating workflows, requires some previous exposure to programming logic. I asked the instructor for some tips on how to learn Microsoft syntax and the mindset to develop logical workflow structures – his candid answer, “I recommend that everyone have taken a computer science course in college.”
Yep, I agree. But what about those of us who never had that option, is it too late to learn?
As my code-savvy scientist friends tell me, it is definitely not too late. More importantly, it seems that learning to program is more about developing a mindset to design solutions to real world challenges and not just memorizing a coding language because these dialects continually evolve. In my neck of the woods, the Tennessee Code Academy has recognized this need and developed an adult education course that focuses on a project-based approach to coding.
Whether you already know how to code or just ready to learn, here are few ways that you can promote computer science education in your community:
- Visit the Code.org website to check out how you can get involved. You can also read a recently released white paper on “The Future of Computer Science Education” that was compiled by TATA Consultancy Services and STEMConnector.
- Take some time to inspire others to code like teaching a neighbor kid how to make a simple game or website.
- Dedicate an hour to learn some code yourself. There are some great websites like Codecademy.com that are self-taught platforms. For more determined learners, look for computer science courses at your local community college or other training centers.
- Pick a coding project and just do it. For example, this ambitious artist learned how to code by creating 180 websites in 180 days.
- Donate funds to a classroom that is in need of computer equipment. There are thousands of classroom projects listed on DonorsChoose.org.
I would love to hear input from readers on this topic. Do you have any other tips on how to learn programming skills or to promote computer science education?