Do You Know How to Code?

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YouTube / Code.org

Code.org is a new non-profit foundation on a mission to teach students to program ("code") computers. It starts with this video, in which big-name and lesser-known computer programmers (including Chris Bosh of the Miami Heat) talk about their first experiences with coding, and explain why they think it's an important skill to teach our kids. Have a look:

And now my two cents. When I went to college, I was primarily concerned with getting a job afterwards. I had always been interested in computers, but I was also into books -- and didn't like math much. So being a Computer Science major seemed like a hassle (I did take some intro classes, and the math was killing me). I discovered what was then called Library Science, which at my school was often referred to as "Computer Science without the math." That wasn't an entirely accurate description, but it was close enough -- the Library Science (later "Information Science") department was this cozy middle place where computers and human brains were employed to organize, categorize, and understand all human knowledge. Which, let's face it, is pretty awesome.

In my case, I came into college with some basic coding skills learned at various stages of earlier schooling, and a little on my own. I knew a little Pascal, a little C, and a lot of half-forgotten BASIC and Logo. At school, I took more C (yay) and Java (boo) classes, as well as picking up some perl and shell scripting in the course of making projects work. By the time I graduated, I would not describe myself as an awesome programmer, but yeah, I could code. I also occupied an awkward first generation of graduates who could mark up web pages -- this is not coding, but it commanded a decent salary anyway.

In my professional career, I've written books and I've written software (including some big deal apps for toddlers). Although I prefer the book work, I have to say that the skills related to programming have been extremely useful in non-computing areas of my work. And I learned early on that programming isn't about math, it's about logic. It is about understanding the order of how things happen, and then becoming increasingly clever (and, we hope, disciplined) about applying that understanding. If I had to counsel kids these days about my top two things to learn at school, they'd have to be English (both spoken and written) and computer programming. Believe me, if you are skilled at those two things, you can get (or make) a job. Wouldn't hurt to learn some history while you're at it, just for kicks.

For more on coding, check out Code.org's learning resources, then head over to Khan Academy for more.

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February 27, 2013 - 12:32pm
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