I spent the last 15 years of my career in the tech space, spanning Yahoo! and Google to startups, and have seen computers go from a fairly specialized equipment to an indispensable part of everyone’s lives. Our personal lives are inextricably linked to what happens in the corridors and cubicles of tech giants like Google, Facebook and Amazon.
But the digital divide is also growing. More and more people have access to the internet, have phones that can do the most complicated tasks for them, and have more information at their disposable. But there are fewer and fewer portions of society who possess the skills and knowledge to understand what is going on with technology and how it impacts our lives. The algorithms that determine - what we find when we do a web search, - where we go and what routes we take to drive there, - what we buy, - where we stay when we travel - how we get there, - what movies and shows we watch are mostly a blackbox, even to the people at Google and Netflix designing these algorithms.
But if decisions are being made by these algorithms and data, shouldn’t we at least understand better how algorithms and data lead to decisions that impact our lives? Keeping this information to only the 0.01% of engineers and data scientists can lead to a subversion of our democracy into a technocracy. This is such a big problem, and I’m not quite sure anyone has the panacea - but I’d like to start contributing to the solution (if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem) in the one way I know how - which is to increase computer programming literacy. And by programming literacy I mean really get people to understand and appreciate what goes on inside the computer/phone. I don’t think its true literacy to understand how to use an app, or email or spreadsheet. More people need to understand and be able to code their own programs. It should become as natural as reading and arithmetic.
To achieve 100% coding literacy among the population, I think we need to start at the elementary school level. Coding should not be seen as a skill only privileged math and science wizards pursue, but something as common as long division. Most of all, I think every kid should be exposed to this skill because it can be so empowering when they discover what they can do with a few lines of code.
The other place I want to pursue this idea of spreading coding literacy is in the developing countries. Coding skills are highly prized in today’s labor marketplace as they are in critical short supply. It has become almost impossible to hire a college graduate with a computer science degree without paying a king’s ransom. From big tech companies to startups, recruiters scour the globe for tech talent.
But these recruiters still look for tech talent in the familiar places, like computer science and engineering departments at top universities in these countries (the last company I worked at recruited exclusively from the top university in Armenia).
While this benefits those lucky enough to have gotten into the tech departments of the best universities in these countries, it doesn’t benefit the populace at large. We need a solution for the other 99%.