Coding Literacy is The Way of the Future

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Girl coding on her computer. Did you know the first computer programmer ever was a woman? (Shutterstock)

When kicking off Computer Science Education week last month, President Barack Obama called on young people to not just be good at using technology—but to take interest in creating it, too.

"Don't just buy a new video game, make one," the president said. "Don't just download the latest app, help design it. Don't just play on your phone, program it. No one's born a computer scientist, but with a little hard work and a little math and science, just about anyone can become one." 

It’s highly practical advice. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects jobs in computer programming will grow by 12 percent from 2010 to 2020. Soon, we might all have to learn code—whether we want to or not. 

That realization propelled Manoush Zomorodi, host and managing editor of WNYC's New Tech City, to sign up for a day-long coding course. She explains what she learned, and why coding literacy is the way of the future. 

Manoush's coding instructor, Ali Blackwell, is one of the co-founder's of Decoded, which runs workshops to teach anyone to code. He joins The Takeaway to discuss why coding is so important.



Ali Blackwell and Manoush Zomorodi

Produced by:

Mythili Rao


T.J. Raphael

Comments [4]

John Keklak from Boston, MA

A common misconception about creating software is that it is merely a matter of writing code, and therefore it makes sense to teach people to code. In reality (which any experienced software developer will confirm) is the amount of time spent writing code is shockingly minuscule. The vast majority of software development time is spent trying to figure out why your code -- or someone else's -- doesn't work in some cases. Rather than teaching people to code, I suggest teaching people to find problems in existing code. As side benefits, they (the people) will learn to code, and may also discover that they'd prefer to leave software development to others.

Jan. 09 2014 11:08 AM
Robert Thomas from Santa Clara

In the last three decades, the quality of hardware (specifically, computing and communications machinery hardware) engineering has soared. During the same period, the quality of software engineering has plummeted.

Market forces are largely responsible. Hardware design errors are extremely expensive and more prominently so since products of this sort ave penetrated all levels of our lives. At the same time, providers have trained customers to accept extremely shoddy software products that offer exciting new features at the expense of endless aftermarket updates patches and consequent security disasters.

In a recent major project development program in which I participated, something like four or five major hardware engineering problems were encountered (in the development of a product that sells for around a million dollars) that delayed or disturbed the project schedule and caused consternation. Dozens of smaller hardware problems had to be solved or mitigated.

In the same product development, with a software engineering team of approximately the same size, roughly 60,000 software engineering faults were encountered. The vast majority of these were easily rectified but they were also mostly caused by inattention, laziness, poor communication, lax engineering standards, illiteracy and enforcement of unrealistic schedules. Even errors simple to repair cause confusion, wasted time and wasted attention that is becoming ruinous for such programs. Any actual program manager will be unable to deny this.

Journalists have come to believe that "writing code" is like writing an essay. IT"S NOT. Done properly, it's ENGINEERING.

C++ is "intuitive"?? Math is scary? FORTRAN is a business language?? Good grief.

The quality of software engineering has tumbled, and the notion that just anyone can do it well - as though it were like playing with Legos - is dispiriting.

Jan. 08 2014 04:18 PM

I'm afraid many of the comments on this segment reflect an almost total lack of understanding of computer science and programming. First of all "learning to code", in whatever particular language you care to choose, does not equate to being a computer scientist. Computer science is a highly technical and mathematical field. "Coding" and the various computer languages are just means of expressing algorithms. The design and analysis of algorithms is a true computer science topic. The field of software engineering is also a complex endeavor, and knowing a particular language is a minute part of the knowledge required.
A specific comment by the host that "Fortran was impossible to figure out, but ... C++ is more intuitive" is ludicrous. C++ is a much more complex language than Fortran.
There seems to be a pervasive tendency in the media to grossly oversimplify this field. To be a computer scientist or true software engineer requires significant education and experience.

Jan. 08 2014 04:04 PM
John A

In a future when machines rule (and many are discussing this seriously) maybe everyone should be ML'iterate, bit until then, please remember people's natural abilities and inabilities when creating jobs. Everyone need not be programmers. I have had to 'clean up' after some of the poorer ones...

Jan. 08 2014 04:03 PM

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