As tech takes over, not being able to code compares to not speaking the native language of a country. Schools continue to teach students the skills to work in a world that no longer exists - a world without technology. Four of the 10 most admired companies in the world are tech companies. Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Page and Bill Gates rival pop stars in popularity. Samsung is no longer some little known Korean manufacturer of white goods, nor is "tweeting" limited to birds. Our relationship with technology has changed drastically in the last 20 years. Technology affects the way we shop, the way we communicate and even the way we elect our constitutional representatives. In an increasingly tech-reliant world, coding isn't just a value-added skill, it is an essential tool for innovation.
Changing Skills for a Changing World
Imagine moving to a new country where no one speaks English. How would you find work in this country? If you can't even make a legible CV, what are the chances of actually holding on to a job? This is exactly the situation most students face today. Their schools teach them the basics of mathematics, science, languages and the liberal arts. Yet coding remains an under-appreciated, optional subject. Consequently, students graduate with the knowledge to work in a world that no longer exists - a world without technology. Business needs have changed, school curricula haven't. Intense global competition means employers are unwilling to pay for excessive training and want work-ready employees. If it comes down to a choice between two equivalent employees where one can code, the other can't, most businesses will pick the former. It's not unfair; it's corporate Darwinism.
Laying the Grounds for Innovation
Netscape founder Marc Andreessen once famously declared, "Software is eating the world." Indeed, software is touching our lives in ways never thought of before. We communicate with Facebook, share through Twitter and like through Pinterest. Software companies have disrupted entire industries, whether it is Airbnb and the hospitality industry, or Skype and the telecom sector. The innovators of tomorrow will be the coders of today. A world founded on technology requires entrepreneurs who can manipulate software, and the only way to do that is through coding. Online message boards are littered with thousands of frustrated would-be entrepreneurs making desperate pleas for programmers to bring their vision to life. Equipping students with coding knowledge ensures that when the right idea strikes, they won't be found wanting in the technical skills department.
A computer language is just that - a language. It is an artificial construct with its own syntax and grammar rules. Because computer languages did not spring from hundreds of years of linguistic evolution and experimentation, they follow an inherent system of logic. You won't find logical discrepancies such as 'parking in a driveway, driving in a parkway' in Java or C. In the process of learning a computer language, you learn something more important than the ability to manipulate technologies or bolster up a resume: you learn to think algorithmically. Algorithmic thinking changes the way students approach problems. An algorithm follows logic and a due process. Individual components are tried one after another in a systemic fashion to yield solutions. It teaches students to plan, organize and implement solutions - not just throw everything at the wall and see what sticks. Students need to learn algorithmic thinking not because it will improve their employability (it will), but because it will teach them how to approach problems more efficiently - both in and outside work. If America is to create the next generation of inventors and innovators, it needs people who can solve problems in this manner.
The push for higher enrollment in STEM majors has yielded rich dividends; the same now needs to be done for coding. Coding needs to be identified as a separate, yet related sub-field of computer science. Learning to code does not require a complete knowledge of artificial intelligence, software architecture and the many diverse fields that make up a college-level computer science curriculum. It only requires that you have a working knowledge of a programming language and an ability to manipulate computer systems. 2012 was a landmark year for coding. Codecademy, a free platform to learn programming languages, declared 2012 to be a "Code Year." Code.org, a non-profit championing the cause of coding, released a wildly successful star-studded video urging American schools to include coding within the school curriculum. If NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg is ready to learn how to code at 71, so are our students.