Computer programming is not in my comfort zone and I don’t have an intuitive knack for it, but that shouldn’t be surprising. The only computer classes I had to take in high school revolved around typing. My middle school and high school’s “technology” classes had a lot to be desired. Which is why, when given the opportunity to help with a middle school day camp that had a significant programming focus, I jumped at it.
While it was technically my job to help the students with their programming projects, I secretly hoped I could learn from them, as well. Coding, and everything that goes along with it, is quickly becoming not just desirable, but necessary, regardless of your field.
It’s not just about knowing the syntax. It comes down to something called “computational thinking,” which is basically being able to look at raw data and solve a problem. It’s a lot more difficult than that, however. Tasneem Raja at Mother Jones likens computational thinking to cooking:
There are those who open the pantry to find a dusty bag of legumes and some sad-looking onions and think, “Lentil soup!” and those who think, “Chinese takeout.” A practiced home cook can mentally sketch the path from raw ingredients to a hot meal, imagining how to substitute, divide, merge, apply external processes (heat, stirring), and so on until she achieves her end. Where the rest of us see a dead end, she sees the potential for something new.
This is really the magic behind coding. Not everyone can or should be a computer programmer. It can be tedious work. But everyone should know how code works and the thought process behind it.
Raja at Mother Jones argues persuasively that in the near future understanding code will be akin to knowing how to read and write. That is, a necessary skill to function in society. Right now, this skill is overwhelmingly in the hands of white guys. It’s becoming more and more important to get women and girls and people of color involved.
The tech industry has recognized this. Google, in partnership with Chelsea Clinton, Mindy Kaling, the Girl Scouts of America, Girls Inc., the National Center for Women & Information Technology, MIT, TechCrunch and Seventeen magazine, have launched Made with Code, an initiative designed to get girls involved in coding early.
This is far from the only program out there that is trying to get girls and people of color into computer programming. There is also Black Girls Code and Girl Develop It, to name a couple. Programs like Scratch and Alice are designed for kids. The latter two help you understand what’s going on in the code without getting bogged down in the syntax quicksand.
There are, of course, many reasons why women and minority groups might run screaming from the tech sector. There is a huge discrimination problem and a lot of stereotypes that have to be overcome (which is no small feat). And, despite the prevalence of online tutorials, learning to code isn’t easy. However, it’s worth it. Like all that geometry and algebra you don’t use an adult, it teaches you to think and work your way through problems to find a solution. That is a universal skill if ever there was one.
Photo Credit: marissa anderson via Flickr