The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Computing for Your Kids: Part I

Updated: Jun 11

We just had our second baby, 4 months ago. Over drinks with fellow local new dads @the Elgin, one of them said, “My girl needs to learn 2 foreign languages for tomorrow – Mandarin and Coding”. I smiled.

Girl Building a Robot
Credit: Intel IQ

I am sure that, as a parent, you must hear that coding is an essential skill for tomorrow. What does that really mean? Do our kids all have to be software developers to survive the next 50 years?

I’ll humbly attempt to answer this question, but first, let’s draw a key distinction between ‘Coding’ and ‘Computing’. When coding, you are writing a set of instructions for a computer to follow and to do something as a result. ‘Computing’ or ‘Computer Science’ is richer, and vaster. It concerns itself with developing logical problem solving skills, understanding how a computer works, how a computer network like the Internet works, its role in our everyday life and how one can manipulate it.

I am going to claim that Computing - not just Coding - is essential for your child today. Allow me to explain.

25 years ago, I grew up learning maths, languages, photosynthesis, and the digestive system. Today, in addition to these very relevant life topics, my 3 year old’s life is full of computing systems. At last count, he interacts with almost 10 computing systems everyday - his light controlled night lamp, oyster card readers, Alexa and oven timers (he gets to set the timer when baking muffins with me), to name a few. How do these work, Vir, I ask, and sometimes he’ll say, “it’s magic!” with a glitter in his eye. I smile.

Our children don’t need to all become software developers, but they do need to understand about computing systems, because, much like maths and science, computers are all around them today. How wonderful if they weren’t just passive consumers, but became creators and influencers of these systems.

There are many other reasons why Computing is important.

First, it's a creative endeavour. As humans, we get a sense of euphoria when we create something new and computers enable us to create in a number of fields such as maths, graphics, design and music. And all you need is a computer and Internet.

Second, if you indeed take up computing as a career, it is in high demand today and pays better than most other careers. According to government-backed analysis, digital roles pay 36% more than the national average. And many graduate tech roles are the best paid, even more than investment banking. Globally, there aren’t enough software engineers as there are jobs today. In the US alone, last year there were more than 500,000 open computing jobs and only about 40,000 graduated into the workforce.

Third, computing is an essential skill in multiple other careers. For instance, you will need computing skills as a mechanical engineer doing structural analysis or as an economist creating new models to work out the GDP of a country or as a banker doing financial analysis and modelling.

In fact, computing can be a key tool in your arsenal even in non-technical careers. Musicians, designers and videographers all use software extensively for their creative output and, often, these software systems are programmable. Being able to program them gives you an edge and enables better, more beautiful, richer creations.

Finally, computing helps develop logical thinking and critical reasoning and offers many opportunities for collaborative work - all very useful skills as a student and certainly beyond that.

I love this quote by Steve Jobs, the visionary, creative genius and co-founder and CEO of Apple.

"Everybody in this country should learn to program a computer, because it teaches you how to think" - Steve Jobs

So, where do we start? At what age?

We will explore this question about how you can introduce computing to your child in Part II of this 2-part series. Stay tuned by following us on Facebook.

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