Most people understand that the ability to use a piece of software doesn’t equate to the ability to build that piece of software. Using a computer has been an essential skill in the modern workforce for some time, but the ability to make a computer useful by programming it to do what you want is an entirely different skillset. Computer programming is a language and like any language is best learned when you are young. So why aren’t we doing a better job of teaching kids the primary language of the tools that we work with?
Using technology versus creating technology
The educational system in the U.S. has traditionally been aimed at helping children to utilize technology as opposed to actually creating the tech itself. Although we commonly look to the tech sector as a driving force in American innovation, computer science continues to be marginalized in K-12 education. Here are some interesting statistics from Code.org, one of a handful of organizations that champions improvements in CS education:
- 90% of parents want their child to study computer science.
- Only 40% of schools teach computer programming.
- Only 34 states allow students to count computer science courses toward high school graduation.
- 71% of all new jobs in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) are in computing.
- Only 9 states have K-12 CS standards (Florida is one of them by the way!).
As a parent with young children, I want my kids to be adequately prepared to pursue the career of their choice. Considering the current pace of technological advancement shows no signs of slowing, I am convinced that computer science and programming should be a basic literacy for the 21st century.
The need for basic programming literacy has proven true for me as well. After working as a musician, designer, and general creative for over a decade, I began to see that without some further training my future career options would be severely limited. Like many, I was effective at interacting with creative and productivity software but was limited by not being able to translate my work into the code that makes up a webpage.
When it comes to my kids, I am convinced that we’ll all end up working for my seven year old daughter someday. She reads more books in a week than I do in a month and pretty handily beats me at strategy games. I tend to spend very little time worrying about her. My son on the other hand has inherited his mother’s extrovert gene and a musical ear from both of us. The creative force is already very strong with him. As a recovering musician myself, his creative tendencies have earned a watchful eye from me. When he recently showed interest in taking a coding class for kids at The Iron Yard I was excited but a little concerned as well. I was doubtful that his 9 year old attention span would allow him to focus for a 90 minute class in front of a computer. More than anything, I was worried he would have a bad experience and end up not wanting to have anything to do with code in the future. We went ahead and committed to the 6 week course and to satisfy my helicopter parenting tendencies, I signed on to be a Teacher’s Assistant. I’m happy to report that he graduated with flying colors and most importantly, he is still excited about coding and even simultaneously started another coding and robotics course at our local library. He may be doomed to be a musician but at least he will be able to feed himself as a developer.
As a SaaS product, Fulcrum is fundamentally dependent on the creativity and ingenuity of its software developers. Finding and keeping talented people is key to our success and is definitely part of our long-term strategy. Unfortunately for companies like ours, the demand for high-quality developers is growing much faster than the current educational system is able to fill.
For example, here in Florida we currently have a supply of about 2,486 computer science grads coming out of traditional university programs but there is a demand of 22,044 open jobs in computing. That is 8.86 open job opportunities for every grad. Florida is 3.8x higher than the average state demand rate. Considering what a desirable place it is to live (shameless plug), that should be good news to computer science grads, and enticing to those that are considering pursuing computing as a profession. Florida’s supply and demand disparity may be atypical for your state, but nationwide the numbers still hold up. In fact, last year only 42,969 computer science students graduated into the workforce and there are 521,444 open computing jobs nationwide. That’s 12 jobs per grad!
Those kinds of numbers indicate extremely fertile ground for those looking to cultivate a career in computing, but what does it mean for an employer like Fulcrum?
We do our very best to invest in our employees through competitive compensation and a great company culture, but also realize that long term sustainability in this industry means that we need to do what we can to cultivate the actual supply of new developers. One of the ways that we can do this is by investing in the next generation of developers and propping up K-12 education in computer science as well as grass roots initiatives like the free Kids Classes at The Iron Yard.
However, even if you aren’t a business owner, you can still help:
First, if you consider yourself NOT to be technically inclined or even intimidated by technology, then grab a piece of humble pie and a child that needs some mentoring and go learn alongside them. There is no better way to start learning about something than to see it through the eyes of a child. Even if you don’t intend to pick up a new skill it is extremely beneficial for kids to have an advocate with them that can help ask questions they may not have the words for yet.
Second, if you have some technical skills, please take some time to reinvest in your local community of developers, particularly the youngest ones. The developer community is really good at sharing information with fellow peers that speak a similar language, but maybe we could be better at mentoring those that need to learn the basic grammar. Even if it were done out of self-interest as a resume builder, a minuscule investment will reap exponential dividends in both your professional and personal life. I think we could all agree that being able to synthesize and relay a complex idea or concept in a way that enables a fourth-grader to grasp it is a sign of true intelligence that we all can admire.