Monday kicks off Computer Science Education Week, with students in every country around the globe participating in Hour of Code, a one-hour introduction to computer science designed to demystify coding for students and encourage them to pursue technology careers.
The Hour of Code campaign was started by Code.org in 2013. Today, over 100 million students participate—one out of every 10 students on the planet, according to Hadi Partovi, CEO of Code.org. The initiative has also inspired some 400,000 classrooms to begin teaching computer science classes, and hundreds of school districts have made commitment to add it to the curriculum, Partovi said.
"Learning computer science is just as foundational as learning biology or chemistry," Partovi said. "These days, learning what an algorithm is and how data is encrypted on the internet is just as important as learning how photosynthesis works."
Hour of Code partners include Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, Google, and more than 400 other tech and education organizations and 200,000 teachers. The campaign's success is largely due to the partnership between the tech and education community, Partovi said. "The ultimate success of the Hour of Code is in changing the stereotype of who can learn computer science, and getting schools to make computer science part of the formal curriculum," Partovi said.
When you search images for "coder" or "tech CEO," you see a lot of white men, Partovi said. But when you search "students coding," you see a diverse array of students of all races and ages, thanks in large part to Hour of Code events, he said.
In 2014, President Barack Obama participated in Hour of Code, and became the first president to write a line of code, Partovi said.
Tech companies can learn how to participate here. Some options include volunteering at an Hour of Code event in your community this week, or hosting one at any time of year.
With the rise of the Internet of Things (IoT), we are living in an increasingly networked and automated world, said Engin Kirda, professor of computer science at Northeastern University.
"It is important to get students interested and excited about computer science because this is a field that will most certainly directly impact their lives in the future," Kirda said. "They will be using automatized, computer systems for a wide range of activities. Understanding how these systems work conceptually would enable them to use these systems more effectively, and also protect themselves against attacks and other computer-related problems."
The US currently faces a wide gap in qualified employees who can fill computer science positions, Kirda said. "Going forward, this gap will grow if we cannot improve the rate at which we can graduate and train future computer science workers."
Hour of Code can also help close the tech gender gap, said Alaina Percival, CEO of Women Who Code, an Hour of Code partner. "For young women, it's important for them to understand that their ability to interact with technology is not restricted, and that they can be successful pursuing engineering careers," Percival said. "At the same time it is a chance for mentors and teachers to get involved, acting as role models and showing that there are already incredible women doing amazing things with technology."
Even if students don't pursue a computer science career, technology is now touching every industry in one way or another, so it is beneficial for students to understand the principles underlying code, Percival said.
"Celebrating the Hour of Code event is important, as it encourages learners everywhere to start thinking about learning more about CS," said Anant Agarwal, CEO of online education platform edX, an Hour of Code partner that offers free courses in computer science. "Whether you are nine or 90, Hour of Code is a great place to begin your journey."
The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers
- Starting Monday, an estimated 100 million students across the globe will participate in an Hour of Code, a Code.org event in which students spend at least one hour learning computer science skills.
- Thanks in part to the Hour of Code campaign, more than 400,000 schools have added computer science to their formal curricula.
- Even if students do not want to become computer programmers, learning to code can help advance their careers in a variety of fields, experts say.
- Report: 40% of employers worldwide face talent shortages, driven by IT (TechRepublic)
- How "returnships" can get working mothers back into tech (TechRepublic)
- Predictions 2017: A year of action (ZDNet)
- Middle East's startup leaders: Five ways they're leading the world (ZDNet)
- Tech's gender gap is getting worse, not better, report says (TechRepublic)
Alison DeNisco Rayome is a Staff Writer for TechRepublic. She covers CXO, cybersecurity, and the convergence of tech and the workplace.