Coding Our Way to the American Dream

June 6, 2013

Lovers of irony can look forward to a disconcerting statistic: if present trends continue, by 2020 a whopping 1.4 million computer-programming jobs will be available, with only 400,000 students graduating with the skills needed to fill them.  In economic terms, this translates to a $4 billion lost opportunity.

How might this be averted?

For Ryan Carson, the answer is simple – provide everyone with the opportunity to learn to code. Carson is the founder of Orlando-based Treehouse, a leading start-up in the learn-to-code movement that recently expanded its services to teach coding in high school.

“The school I’m most excited about is in San Jose,” he says. “All the kids are from at-risk homes — they have single parents who are working full time; they’re from minority groups. … Out of 12 [students], we think four or five are going to be job-ready right away . . . And if they’re good, they’ll get fast-tracked up to $100,000 within a couple years. And that money is going to be coming back into communities to support families that are having trouble. I think we’re going to see real regeneration because of this.”

Hadi Partovi, founder of Code.org, a non-profit foundation dedicated to growing computer programming education, echoes Carson’s focus on social inequality.  “Coding is the American Dream,” he declares. “If you want to be the next Mark Zuckerberg or even want a high-paying job, those jobs are for programmers. … And yet the opportunity to be exposed to that is going to the top 10 percent, and that is just morally wrong.”

Jocelyn Leavitt, the Founder & CEO of Hopscotch, and Vanessa Hurst, Founder of Girl Develop It, have picked out additional demographics that are traditionally excluded from such knowledge, the former using iPad technology to teach coding to elementary school children, the latter empowering women of diverse backgrounds from around the world to develop software. Hurst’s blog showcases a report from the National Center for Women & Information Technology, which stirringly declares, “If technology is designed mostly by the half of our population that’s male, we’re missing out on the innovations, solutions, and creations that 50% of the population could bring.” In defense of children as avid computer science students, Leavitt adds, “Kids are creative. Empower them to create anything they can imagine.”

It is of course difficult to calculate the precise impact these initiatives will have in reversing the negative trend toward a computer-illiterate workforce, but for those with a stake in economic prosperity, it surely is heartening to acknowledge that such initiatives are underway.

For more information on this topic check out these FurtherEd TV interviews: Code.org & Code Montage and Hopscotch & Girl Develop It.

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