I started learning to program computers in BASIC way back around 1981. I had an Atari computer hooked up to my 13″ color TV. My storage medium was a cassette tape (just like the kind we used for music). I spent hour upon hour learning how to make the computer do the things I wanted it to do. I created simple stuff where the computer would draw certain pictures or simple text based games.
I didn’t take it too much further than that as I didn’t know of any place or any person in my neighborhood that held the same interest and there weren’t any resources for someone like me (at least that I knew of) in Chicago. There was no computer club at my high school (maybe I would have stayed!) and no local computer clubs either. So I reached the limit of what I was able to do on my own and didn’t pursue it further. I always kept my interest for computers and technology, though, and would subscribe to PC Magazine, PC World, and others just so I could keep in touch with this new world.
What I gained from that year or two of learning to write computer code was invaluable. It taught me how computers work and demystified all of it. It taught me to think more logically. Later in life, when I finally went back to school to get my bachelor’s degree in computer science I was able to apply all those basics I learned when I was 14 years old. This helped immensely with learning algorithms, SQL, C++, compression and error correction, and more.
When I see where computer technology is going I can’t help but think that people are being further removed from having to know anything about how computers work. Android and iOS devices are more appliance than “computer” and while that’s good in some respects (usability and expansion of the user base) it is detrimental in others (these devices seem “magical” in the words of Steve Jobs).
Learning to write code should be part of the core curriculum of every school in the nation. With some of the tools available today kids as young as 4 or 5 can begin to learn how to control a computer. Can you imagine the possibilities of a nation of people that know how to manipulate the machines they use everyday? Computers, smart phones, and tablets are just machines. They are comprised of hardware and software. And these machines run the world now. The US needs to lead the world with future generations of hardware and software engineers.
Get your kid started here, code.org: