Employment Down? Why Not Teach Computer Science to the Masses?

By Ruti Polachek  FEB 14, 2012 3:15 PM

In the Silicon Valley, at least, many people are already starting to realize that future employment may rely on knowing how to code.


Unemployment is at 8.9%? Well, you sure don't feel it here in the Bay area. For the technology-versed, there are plenty of jobs to be had. The only natural conclusion is that we need to mint more coders.

Facebook is not valued at $100 billion for nothing. It is not the only tech company that's growing. The CBOE Technology Index (^TXX) is hovering around its 10-year high, slowly making its way back to where it was in the wake of the new millennium. The current technological growth is real. The technology market is booming, and every corporation and startup is hiring. Hiring developers.

True, a lot of these recruiting wars are among the tech giants. Google (GOOG) engineers have been flocking to the new kids on the block, such as Facebook and Twitter. Well, with Facebook's impending IPO you can't blame them; they will indeed be reaping the fruits of their labor pretty soon. But though the war over the good engineers is fierce, it's not merely the large companies like Apple (AAPL) and Microsoft (MSFT) who are after the tech talent, but pretty much every tech company and startup. On top of that, pretty much every company in the world understands it needs a Web, a social and a mobile presence. And the current talent pool is not even close to satisfying the demand.

This job market is unparalleled. In most industries, there are far more employees than employers. Here, it is quite the reverse. There are even speed-dating events between startups and developers. Literally, companies will do anything to get a hold of (the good) developers.

And if you are not a developer, well, you can become one!

In the Silicon Valley, many people are starting to realize that their employment future lies in them knowing how to code, and that it is quite possible to learn how, within months. Lovestagram is a great example of this new trend. The girlfriend of Instgaram's founder surprised him in honor of Valentine's Day this week by learning to code and creating this application. Many people here in the valley learn how to code, even after having had an elaborate career doing something else. There are multiple study groups of people who do this together. There are also bootcamps which teach people with no prior experience how to code. One development bootcamp planned to offer it for free, covering the tuition retroactively with the referral fees from future employers. But they were grossly oversubscribed and so ended up partially charging for the program. At my firm, Maddate, we recently hired several interns for a similar program that involved instruction in coding. We, too, had many more qualified candidates than we could accept.

There are multitudes of online tools for aspiring coders, too. Close to 100,000 people signed up for Codeacademy's' New Year's resolution, where they receive a weekly programming lesson via email (you can probably still quickly join if you're interested). Rubymonk is another great way to start learning ruby online before you have to install anything on your machine. Lynda.com has great tutorials which will teach you how to code from the ground up. Stanford University offers some of its computer science courses online as well.

The root of everything is education. Teach a million people how to code, and unemployment will drop. But as one friend and colleague Alaina has thoughtfully suggested, you can go even further: Why not include it in elementary school curriculum: reading, writing, arithmetic, coding. Don't teach a million people how to code, teach a million teachers how to code – and we could be raising an entire generation of technological advancements.

Here in the Bay area people understand how valuable these skills are, and focus on acquiring them if they don't have them already. The rest of the country and the world should as well, and the sooner the better. It's a positive force which will surely affect not only our economy but also our future.

"But some people won't get it" – say you. Well, some people don't get math, but everyone learned the basics when they were young. Later some do something with it as adults, and some don't. With the place it has in our world today and in our future, computer science should be no different.

"But it is too hard," say you. Well, easy and hard are relative terms. For some people math is easy, for some – hard. In my view, easy is anything I already know, and hard – something that I do not yet know. So of course it would seem hard to you if you've never tried.

"But not everybody needs to be a programmer," say you. That is obviously true. Not everyone is a mathematician or a biologist, either. But whoever is good at it as a child, or who likes it and wants to put an effort into it, would have the opportunity to pursue it as an adult. Everyone learns math; only some use it for more advanced applications. More and more tech companies will emerge, and more of our collective efforts will be channeled toward technological growth.

If you are thinking, "Well, this is an interesting trend, but not everyone could learn how to code," think again. I'll tell you a secret: Not all coding is so tough. The tools for developing today are becoming simpler. Various Frameworks, Ruby on Rails, JQuery, CoffeeScript, HTML5, are all examples of coding technologies which enable coders to do more with less, and are based on older and more complex technologies. Technological innovations make this possible. If everyone who is capable of writing even basic code could do so, then the brightest minds could work on the genuinely complex parts, such as the algorithms. Creating a simple Web page does not require the same amount of effort as creating a trading program for a hedge fund.

There are already initiatives which help teach children to code. My six-year-old nephew (who is a genius, to be sure) learned how to code (or should I say – how to play) using Scratch. Scratch was designed by MIT to teach the basics of computer development from scratch, and enables one to create games and projects through a simple graphic UI.

Yes, this will no doubt bring down wages in technology. But the exceptional developers will rise. And overall this could average out the job market, bring on more technological advancements, and would just be worth it.

Technology will be so advanced in 10, 20 or 100 years, in ways we cannot even imagine. We are not moving backward, so let's move forward, faster. We are getting closer to the point where everyone will not only need to know how to use an iPad, but also how to write some of its programs.

Well, Hello World. 
No positions in stocks mentioned.

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