My friend is a teacher at our local high school and for the first time this year, she is going to be offering a computer science course. She’s gone to two summer workshops to help her prepare. One workshop was basic, a bit more about how to teach it (‘get in small groups and discuss what a computer is’- I paraphrase, I wasn’t there). The other was a Harvard coding workshop which involved problem sets and otherwise sounded really intense. The aim for her would be for a class somewhere in the middle, but leaning very heavily towards coding.
I told her the computer industry wasn’t all about coding: there really was a lot of ways people could be involved in IT/computer science without necessarily learning a programming language or two fluently. She told me her class had signed up for the class expecting coding. (The benefits of a small school: teachers knowing who you are.) I admitted to her I would have never taken a coding class in high school (full disclosure:of the 20 students in her class, one is female).
And all that got me to thinking…
There’s all these initiatives getting students to code. One of my programmer friends just helped at a camp for 7-12 year old kids with these skills. I can only picture what fun things a 7 year old could program (I’m thinking dinosaurs). And there are coding camps in the summer, after school programs, and classes for mainly middle and high school kids all over the US (and likely the world). Adults are paying thousands to learn to code in short periods of time so they can get better paid jobs. Coding is so hot right now.
There is no doubt computer programming skills are valuable, even if the language you learn is no longer in wide use when you hit the work force (I can throw most of my Visual Basic knowledge out the window in a general way but the principles still work). You learn problem solving, logic, and other knowledge you can apply to all kinds of fields.
There seems, however, to be an emphasis on coding almost to the exclusion of other parts of the computer world. Sure, programmers are well paid and very in demand but where would they be without sales people, teachers, integrators, designers, animators, editors, marketers, copywriters, technicians, database and network admins… in other words other complimentary fields?
I’m not advocating for getting rid of these amazing coding programs. I’m just saying let’s broaden our definition. Let’s introduce these other computer science fields and how they are involved in tech in addition to coding. It’s hard to want to be something when you grow up if you don’t know it exists after all.
I’ll use myself as an example of why this larger world view may be valuable (then I’m not putting anyone else on the spot). My credentials are weird. I am entirely self taught. I’ve hand coded three HTML sites (thankfully none of which are still online as they were UGLY). I’ve been working in Joomla and WordPress for seven years relatively regularly during my 60ish hour work weeks. I have worked on about 300 websites and probably of those built half from scratch.
And yet I would never call myself a coder.
Why? Well a few reasons:
1) I know so many people who know so much more than I do. I joke sometimes that I spend 2-3 hours of my work day feeling completely stupid. It’s all relative I suppose!
2) I don’t know how to do things by memory. I often know what things are called or the desired result I want to get… but I often need Google to tell me a couple steps to put me in the right direction.
3) I’m very very slow at things like CSS, which is why I typically work with others. I can only modify existing PHP, not write it from scratch. Ruby on Rails sounds cool but building my own framework seems exhausting… you get the idea. There are gaps in my knowledge I recognize.
So yeah, I’m not a coder. But I live in a coding world and work in the computer science field. And if someone is taking a computer science class, shouldn’t these students have at least a brief idea of the different kinds of jobs/opportunities that are available? That people like me exist and are not only complimentary to coders but help create work for them?
I think so. And I think my teacher friend does too.
To those of you preparing to talk to your kids about careers, or to teach a computer science class this coming school year, you can assure students lots of us in the computer science world do some coding entirely unintentionally… and in addition, we bring our gifts and contribute to the computer science world. And if they do want to be straight up coders, they’ll be working a lot with people like me. I’m happy to talk, in real life and virtually, with your classroom as I’m sure are some of my computer science friends.
Coding is so hot right now, and I’m happy to be a part of the larger movement of this computer science field. Education has come very far with offering these kinds of courses to students but broadening the focus would make them even more valuable.