Breaking (in) the Code


I admit it:  I can’t write code. I studied it a long time ago, back when computers weren’t portable and the Internet did not exist.  But I dearly need a refresher course.

Why is knowing how to code important for me, and for everyone who expects to be employed at some point in the future?  It’s because understanding the logic underlying code is fundamental to being a modern worker and citizen.

An article in Fast Company got me thinking about this.  Writing code is rapidly becoming a kind of literacy.  Yet few teachers can do it, much less teach it,  even though having this skill is at the same level of importance as being able to read and do math.

We’re already experiencing a sea change in teaching fundamentals.  Take writing.  First we learned block letters, then we printed, then we learned cursive writing.  That’s not how writing is being taught now.  I know really smart, highly educated teenagers today – in fact I am related to some of them – who can’t write a cursive sentence.

At first I was aghast.  Then I sat down and got real. How often do I actually write in longhand any more?  I don’t.  I type on my various electronic devices.  How often to I receive written communications in longhand any more?  Not very darned often.  My grandmother, whose stock in trade was graceful Thank You notes written on good stationery (preferably engraved with her initials) might struggle with the decline of cursive writing.  On the other hand, she was the major proponent of liberation (without giving up manners) during my childhood.  She might very well say “Oh, get over it.  Let’s learn to code together.”

And she would have a point.  Name one modern device or process that isn’t somehow computer-based or connected.  Your car?  Your hearing aids?   Your cell phone?  Your microwave?  Your home?  Your passing through security at airports?  Your tickets to sports and entertainment events?  Your grocery checkout process?  For me, not understanding anything about coding means being illiterate several times a day in the conduct of my normal life.

Multiply the implications of that ignorance by a factor of M (mucho) in the workplace.  If you’re an employer and a job applicant doesn’t understand the mechanism behind the tasks and processes that are key to the success of your business, do you want to hire him/her?   If that person is already an employee, can you afford to keep him/her on payroll long term?

Back to teachers.  If educators can drop teaching cursive writing, they can certainly add code writing and other basic computer science skills.  If they don’t, the next generations of students will be ill-equipped for their lives and for employment.

This is a shocking notion to me. What about you?

Read the full Fast Company article HERE

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