Code: The language you need to learn
Computer code shapes our world – regardless of your age, job or gender. So why are so few of us proficient in this most modern of international languages?
Photograph: Getty Images
Shaping our world: involving young people in the creation of things that actually work demystifies technology. Photograph: Getty Images
Imagine the entire world switching to a new language that you don’t know. It runs deep through everything from governments to your personal life, evolving to create new meanings, set priorities and decide ethics – all in an unregulated environment.
It has already happened. The language is computer code, and most of our schools aren’t teaching it. There will be nearly a million unfilled information and communication technology jobs in Europe by 2015, thousands of them in Ireland. But the importance of code is about more than jobs.
“Coding is the future,” says Jordan Casey, the 14-year-old creator of teach-ware.org, a free web-based application that he wrote for teachers to use after he noticed how lost they were when they misplaced their books of student information.
Since teaching himself to code, at the age of eight, Casey has developed two apps for the iPhone and spoken at conferences around the world. “Technology is making its way into every major industry, and that all comes down to people learning programming. You can create anything at all with code; the possibilities are endless. In Ireland there are lots of jobs, and people are not taking them because they are not familiar with code.”
Casey’s learning has been entirely self-directed, as he finds the information he needs online. He won’t be going to third level after his Leaving Certificate, as he believes he doesn’t need to. His 10-year plan has him at the age of 24 with his first successful start-up.
So what’s the best way to learn code? “Beginning Programming for Dummies, the book, and university computer-science lectures on YouTube,” Casey says. “For younger kids, CoderDojo, the free clubs founded in Ireland by James Whelton.”
Year of code The US has its Hour of Code campaign to get schoolchildren across the country coding. In the UK, 2014 is the Year of Code. Ireland has CoderDojo, which Whelton, who is 22, created in Cork in 2011. He has grown CoderDojo into 300 clubs in 30 countries and now spends much of his time in the US as a consultant.
At school Whelton was labelled a low achiever with learning difficulties. He taught himself maths, so that he could get an A in the Leaving Cert. “Some kids have friends growing up; I had a keyboard. I have learned the hard way that academic success does not translate into life success,” he says.
Whelton believes that the way schools teach doesn’t suit many bright kids and that children should be introduced early to code. “You can change the world with your keyboard,” he says. “I see programming more as an artistic endeavour than a business. Beauty is in the eye of the coder. Like art, you can create anything with code.”
Whelton is nurturing ideals that he hopes will influence young programmers to use technology for social good. “I want to see kids growing up in Ireland going into nonprofits, disrupting using technology and re-creating ethics. It’s not important for everyone to learn to code, but they should have the opportunity to learn it.”