In the depths of an empty network farm, middle of nowhere:
In a dingy, dark basement, the green projection of a computer monitor glowing across her face, our hero typed with fury.
“We only have a few seconds; can you break the code?” her friend’s voice came prodding through her headset.
Our hero kept typing. Panic wasn’t in her nature.
“Do you have it?” her friend pressed. “Please tell me you have it!”
With a final tap on the dusty keyboard and hint of a sly smile on her face, GirlTastic finally announced, “It’s done. My program will block the enemy from breaching the firewall. We’re out of danger.”
“Whew, that was close,” said her friend, greatly relieved.
“You have no idea,” GirlTastic said. “They were hot on my trail the entire time. Not only did I disable their attack, but I also programmed an end-around to hit them behind their own firewall. It was genius. The world is safe again!”
“Thank goodness you took that free online programming class your parents learned about on the Raising Nerd blog!”
GirlTastic and her friend laughed and laughed. The enemy had been taught a lesson and the world was indeed safe again thanks to Raising Nerd.
Espionage with a happy ending always makes me cry.
Okay, perhaps this coding tale was a bit melodramatic. But, fantastic fiction or not, there is a real lesson in there. Much like reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic, computer programming has become a crucial part of society. And, because of this, there’s a strong need for more coders to help make the world go ‘round.
A report from Burning Glass, a job market analytics firm, found there were as many as 7 million job openings in 2015 for occupations requiring coding skills. The report also revealed that programming jobs, overall, are growing 12 percent faster than the market average.
Yes, programming jobs are important, but learning to code does more than prepare your Nerd for a future in IT. Coding instills problem-solving skills and trains kids (and adults) to use those skills in all walks of life. Scientists, engineers, teachers, and doctors all need these abilities to do their jobs.
Steve Jobs once said, “Everybody in this country should learn how to program a computer…because it teaches you how to think.”
And who would know that better than the guy who taught himself programming and gave us the iPod?
But it’s not enough for parents to want their Nerds to learn programming. Parents also can (and should) embrace and learn along with them.
Right now you’re probably saying, “Are you kidding me? I’m too old to understand any of that techno-babble.”
Sure, programming is a skill that takes some time and effort to learn. But to that lame age cop-out, we at Raising Nerd say, “Hogwash!” (We don’t really say that, but you get our gist.)
Drew Houston, founder & CEO of DropBox may have put it best when he said, “It’s really not unlike playing an instrument or learning to play a sport. It starts off being very intimidating but you get the hang of it over time.”
He makes a valid point. Programming, or coding, is just another skill or muscle that needs to be developed.
I tried out this theory with GirlTastic. We both sat down for a free, online coding tutorial on Code.org. She gravitated towards a Disney Princess coding tutorial, and it blew me away how fast she sailed through the program. In no time, she was building a game, solving puzzles, and having a blast. She continued for more than an hour, stopping only because it was time for bed. I’m sure she would’ve stayed on all night if it wasn’t for her mean dad.
I’m almost positive GirlTastic has no plans to enter a technology career. In fact, with her love for art, cooking, and performing, Information Technology is about as far away from a career direction for her as a professional quarterback is for me.
So why should GirlTastic learn coding?
Ask Microsoft founder Bill Gates, who said, “Learning to write programs stretches your mind, and helps you think better, creates a way of thinking about things that I think is helpful in all domains.”
No matter what career or interests your Nerd has, coding skills will help them become stronger problem solvers. Additionally, coding is fun and incredibly empowering. Watching GirlTastic solve problems in new ways and seeing her work through them on her own was truly amazing. At first, it was scary and she didn’t think she could do it, but soon enough, she was even coaching her Clueless Dad. Her pride of accomplishment was inspiring.
According to Gabe Newell, former Microsoft executive and founder of pioneering video game platform company Valve, “The programmers of tomorrow are the wizards of the future. You’re going to look like you have magic powers compared to everyone else.”
See there? It’s true. By learning to code, your Nerds might actually save the world! Go Nerds!
So where do you and your Nerd start?
The good news is there are tons of free online programming classes at your fingertips. Raising Nerd dug into the Internet to decode (see what we did there?) some of them for you. Check them out:
Scratch – Developed as a free online learning tool from the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the MIT Media Lab, Scratch lets you program your own interactive stories, games, and animations — and share your creations with others in the online community. Scratch helps young people learn to think creatively, reason systematically, and work collaboratively — essential skills for life in the 21st century.
Code.org – Launched in 2013, Code.org® is a nonprofit dedicated to expanding access to computer science. Their vision is that every student in every school should have the opportunity to learn computer science. Code.org believes computer science should be part of core curriculum, alongside courses such as biology, chemistry, and algebra.
Made with Code – A nonprofit sponsored by Google, Girl Scouts of the USA, and many more, Made with Code was started to give women more representation in roles that make technology happen. The company’s goal is to inspire teen girls and show how code can help them pursue their passions and effectively contribute their voices in their chosen technology fields. With free online tutorials, MWC will have your Nerd making music, art, and more in no time.
Khan Academy – Khan Academy courses tackle math, science, computer programming, history, art history, economics, and more. Khan offers practice exercises, instructional videos, and personalized learning that empowers learners to study at their own pace, inside and outside of the classroom. They’ve even partnered with institutions like NASA, The Museum of Modern Art, The California Academy of Sciences, and MIT to offer specialized content.
Free Code Camp – This open-source community helps you learn to code through self-paced coding challenges and building projects. They also provide a community in which you can connect with people in your city so you can code together.
Twine – You don’t need to write any code to create a simple story with Twine, but you can extend your stories with a number of different platforms. Twine publishes directly to HTML, so you can post your work nearly anywhere. Anything you create with Twine is completely free to use any way you like, including for commercial purposes.
Hopscotch – Building a better programming language and, along the way, inspiring a new generation of play for kids everywhere. Hopscotch is an iPhone app that allows young people to create their own games, art, and animations.
Code Combat – Lets you learn to program through fun game play.
Swift Playgrounds – Created by Apple, this new iPad app makes learning Swift interactive and fun. Solve puzzles to master the basics using the powerful Swift programming language also created by Apple. Then take on a series of challenges and step up to more advanced creations. Swift Playgrounds requires no coding knowledge, so it’s perfect for beginners.
Tynker – A creative computing platform where millions of kids have learned to program and build games, apps, and more. Tynker offers self-paced, online courses for children to learn coding at home, as well as an engaging programming curriculum for schools.
MIT App Inventor – An innovative beginner’s introduction to programming and app creation that transforms the complex language of text-based coding into visual, drag-and-drop building blocks. The simple graphical interface grants anyone the ability to create a basic, fully-functional app within an hour.