There is one subject area that is becoming vitally important in our global industry: it ensures the information we want to access arrives quickly, and yet most schools do not require classes in this field. Students gain a solid foundation in nineteenth-century British literature, and yet many remain woefully misinformed about computer programming.
Ask an average student what the differences are between two common programming languages — say, Python and Java — and your efforts may be rewarded with a bewildered “Why are you comparing snakes with coffee beans?”
The Need: Program or Be Programmed
The truth is that in our Digital Age, whoever holds the key to programming ends up building the way the rest of us lives. Computer programming is still regarded as an arcane subject, and it should not be this way. Few skills are more important or open more doors than a solid education in coding. We use computers in our schools, offices, homes, and yet most of us have barely scratched the surface of what technology can accomplish. Today, many of us have not tried to understand the code of the device they use or how it runs: instead, they accept the most basic functions of the diverse technologies they have access to.
Learning programming allows students to comprehend programming logic, structure, and design. It allows them to become an active participant instead of the bystander. A student who takes the time to learn CSS and HTML can code his or her own website. That website can, in turn, serve as a useful tool: perhaps as a gateway to entrepreneurship opportunities or a safe haven to explore and share creativity. The creator decides.
Programming is important to learn, not only because of the skill set it provides, but also because understanding the fundamentals of coding improves logical thinking. It allows students to explore one of the most basic and universal languages. It helps students gain insight into mining the potential of the numerous smartphones, tablets, and computers that fill their lives.
The Learning Gap: Resources for Learning
Douglas Rushkoff, author of Program or Be Programmed and advocate for programming education, advises students to start learning in small steps. A great resource for beginners is CodeAcademy.com, which provides programming courses in over seven languages — all free of charge. This crowd-sourced education company seeks to provide a fun to use coding course without the hassle.
For students who are under-represented in STEM fields, you’re in luck. Many different institutions offer programs that seek to close the demographic gap. According to Labor Department reports, only one in five of software engineers are women. In response to this, companies and institutions are now launching initiatives that help aid minority groups in learning about tech. Worcester Polytechnic Institute offers a Women in STEM program, while MIT funds the Minority Introduction To Engineering and Science program. In a blog post from Gregg Pollack, CEO of the Code School, Google is now offering to pay for three free months of coding lessons for any women and minorities interested in expanding their skills.
While there is still much to be hoped, the push to be better educated in programming fields is there and thriving. Students, no matter where their academic interests lie, should consider learning coding. It will no doubt come in handy in the future, whether its for building a smartphone app or when it comes time to hand in your resume.