Today a video of Code.org is making the rounds on social media and various tech blogs. You see a lot of high profile tech and pop culture leaders talking about their experiences of learning how to code and how it changed their careers.
The conclusion of the video is that we need to teach coding in schools and everything is going to be peachy for our kids in the future. They will work for awesome companies like Facebook, Valve, Dropbox etc have amazing offices, get free and healthy lunches and extra possibilities to spend their free time. Heck, even their clothes will be washed for them!
Though I agree that we need to teach more coding in schools, I think the message of this video (and others that went down the same road) is misleading. I am probably going to write a longer post about that on Big Think, but here are some initial thoughts.
First of all, there is not a scarcity of coders but of software and computer engineers. That’s what CEOs of successful tech companies are looking for. Zuckerberg even says it in the video:
Our policy is literally to hire as many talented engineers as we can find.
And just because you know how code doesn’t turn you into a talented software or computer engineer. It’s an asset or a step into the right direction, just like learning how to read and count is a step towards studying math or English literature.
Telling people that because they learn how to code they will land a highly paid job at Facebook is BS. It’s part of the bigger “we need to invest in STEM” hype that is going to lead to a scarcity in the liberal arts sector down the road which I believe will bite us in the behind twenty years from now.
Think about it. What jobs are going to be still there ten or twenty years from now? Those that cannot be replaced by computers, roboter or any other kind of automation. And guess what kind of skills are needed for those jobs? Right, soft and creative skills, the ones that are now frowned upon.
On top of that, take a look at the people who are shown in the video. They are not just code monkeys, they have other interests and skills they are able to use in their free time. Like the band that jams in the office. People who get the high paid jobs have many more skills than typing “if then else” phrases. They are foremost creative and can solve problems on their own. Facebook’s strategy is built upon small teams of creative thinkers who try out new stuff all the time. Just learning to code won’t get you there.
Last but not least, people are pampered this way because there is of course kind of a limited pool of highly talented people. And even if coding is a growth market at the moment, it will eventually turn into a classic lower skill job like working on the assembly line at Ford or sewering together the latest iPhone at Foxconn. It’s a simple question of supply and demand. The more people know how to code, the lower the wages and higher the working hours. No more playing ping pong or jamming with your band in the office.
Finally about Will.i.am’s argument, we use computers and smartphones and social media but don’t know how to code – well, we use cars and don’t know how a combustion engine works and I would be surprised if he knows how a synthesizer or mix panel works from the inside, as well.
To me, this is just another pointless hype (MOOC anyone?) of a generally valid idea and existing issue. But I think that what we really need to promote is to learn everything in order to become a well rounded person with enough skills to still find a job in the future. Yes, coding will be an essential part of it but don’t think it’s a magic potion.
Last but not least, if you want to read the opposite side of argument my friend and review:ed co-host Christopher Dawson wrote his thoughts on the matter over at ZDNet Education.