Want Your Kids to Build the Next Airbnb, Snapchat, or Uber? Teach Them This Skill

Even if your kids’ school doesn’t teach it, make sure they learn this important skill.
CREDIT: Getty Images

Despite positive developments in the movement to provide formal instruction in coding for kids in major American cities like New York, San Francisco, and Chicago, most schools still don’t offer such courses.

This is unfortunate, because having a solid understanding of how technology works – and not just knowing how to consume digital content – will be crucial to kids’ ability to succeed in the digital economy we live in today.

Most of the newest companies with eye-popping multibillion-dollar valuations are, in essence, computer applications made up of millions of lines of computer code. Think Facebook, Google, Instagram, Airbnb, Snapchat, Uber, and many more.

A number of reasons have been put forth for why kids should learn to code. Here are just five of them.

1. Coding helps develop logical thinking and problem-solving skills.Coding teaches the process of breaking complex problems into smaller chunks, solving them, and then integrating them back into a unified solution: The application. And this is a highly transferable skill: Every job in every industry needs better problem-solvers.

2. Coding requires understanding what users want – and then crafting solutions to their needs. Again, this is a skill that is in demand in just about any industry one can think of.

3. Coding requires working in teams. While there will always be a need for solo coders, most complex coding projects require working in teams, and sometimes very large ones. Transferable skill? Check.

4. Learning to code opens the door to job opportunities. Hadi Partovi, co-founder of Code.org, estimates that 1.4 million programming jobs will be needed over the next decade while current projections are for only 400,000 graduates in the field. A study by Payscale.com ranks computer science as the “third most valuable college major,” with median starting pay of $53,000.

5. Learning to code gives non-coders confidence with technology. The fact is, most students won’t go on to become professional coders. And that’s OK, because whatever occupation they pursue, learning the basics of coding can give them more confidence using technology. I’m not a coder by profession. I’m a marketing and communications guy. But my years coding as a kid, and my occasional dabbling in coding as an adult ,  has given me an understanding of – and comfort using – technology that I might not otherwise have.

Not convinced yet?

I recently spoke with two professional coders who have built billion-dollar businesses on the back of their coding skills – Nathan Blecharczyk, co-founder and CTO of Airbnb; and Matt Mullenweg, creator of WordPress and CEO of Automattic – to get their take on the issue.

Here’s what they told me.

Should kids learn to code?

Blecharczyk: “Definitely. Even if kids don’t eventually pursue a career as a coder, learning how to think like one helps hone logical thinking and problem-solving skills.”

Mullenweg: “Absolutely. I actually believe that coding is like the new literacy, and it’s going to be as important to code in the future as it is to be able to read and write today. Even if you don’t decide to do development as a career, the ability to think like an engineer and understand code is hugely valuable, including for managing other developers.

“Pretty much anything you’re going to do in a modern information society, if it’s connected to a computer, knowing how that computer works and being able to modify it is just invaluable.”

What languages should kids learn first?

Blecharczyk: “The language doesn’t matter as much as the ability to learn how to code itself.”

Mullenweg: “HTML and CSS are absolutely good to start with, and they are also useful even if you’ll never write a line of code, because they are the lingua franca of the Web. Actually, the language I would use after that is JavaScript. It’s an incredibly powerful and elegant language.

“It’s usable both in browsers and you can run Javascript server-side. It’s very fast. So if you’re going to learn Javascript, you’ll be pretty suited to do almost anything you can imagine. A lot of new stuff is happening in Javascript.”

Don’t learn coding for the sake of learning coding

Blecharczyk: “Kids should learn coding through building applications, and not just learn it as a purely academic subject.”

Mullenweg: “It’s not exciting to learn coding for coding’s sake. I’ve certainly always been interested in it as a means to an end. One of the first things I ever coded was for my sister, who was doing a lot of genealogy research. I made a website which was basically just a database of all the family members that she was finding.

“And that was fantastic for learning how to set up a database and tie it all together and do different queries. So if you can figure out a project that seems like fun, just start hacking away on it”.

How to get started

There’s no shortage of online resources that can teach your kids how to code, even if their schools don’t offer courses. For the past few years, Code.org has been promotingHour of Code, a one-hour introduction to computer science that intends to “demystify code.” More than 266 million kids worldwide have taken up the challenge so far, including my 10-year-old daughter.

In addition to Code.org, there are many great websites that provide coding instruction for free or for a fee.Kids, Code, and Computer Science has a helpful list of sites that teach coding, and offers other useful articles and resources, many for free.

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