Will Your Child Speak the Language of the Future?

Randal RedbergEE Managing Member
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Why a programming language could be the most important language your child ever learns.
Being a dad of two young boys, I have thought a great deal about what the world will look like for them in the future. I want them to understand that no one owes you anything in this life, so work hard and be happy with what you receive. I also think that learning a second or third language will benefit them greatly.
 
I know that there could be much debate over what the most useful second language would be. Mandarin, Arabic, Russian, Spanish... but have you ever thought about learning a programming language? This could perhaps be the most important language of all in the future.
 
I know, you might be saying my kid doesn’t seem like the geeky tech type. Really? If you own an iPad or smartphone, how long did it take your very young child to figure out how to use it and then act like they couldn’t live without it? My two boys were adopted from Russia at the ages of 2 and 3. It took them about two minutes to figure out how to punch in a numeric pass code and discover where the games were. They had never seen a smartphone, let alone interacted with one.
 
My point is that I think kids are naturally drawn to technology. Why not give them a head start on the job market and let them learn the basics of coding and a technology language?  In my experience, not knowing how to code feels very much like not knowing how to type fast when I was in college. I would pay other students to type my papers for me.
 
The job market today is strong for individuals who are tech savvy, especially if you know your way around a database or backend codebase. I recently wrote an article about how a sixty year old programming language, COBOL, is still relevant.  If you own your own business it is likely that you will rely on technology and it may be imperative that you have some type of digital presence. More than likely you will need to hire  someone who writes code. Even if you didn’t know the language your app or site is coded in, I think you will have a better understanding about what is required to produce and maintain your technology product.
 
I read an article where kids in Chattanooga, Tennessee are learning about the basics of coding. In Chattanooga? Isn’t that a place in the south that would be more apt to teaching kids how to hunt, cook BBQ and when to wear camo?  Apparently not. Several local technology groups located in Chattanooga sponsored the event.
 
A friend, Travis Truett, who has a successful startup and got to go through the Y Combinator program in Silicon Valley, suggested that teenagers should start on Python due to the fact that it’s powerful, clean, and easy to get something up and going. For younger kids, he felt that MIT’s Scratch language was a great choice because it’s easy to pick up and a great way to learn logic.
 
Gene Richardson, the CIO at Experts Exchange, felt that Java is a great way to go. “With Java they would be able to create a web page, something they see and use everyday on the Internet.” Java is still a robust and stable codebase for many companies.
 
There are a number of sites that have resources dedicated to helping kids learn to code.  Some of those sites include Code.org, Code Club,   Computer Science Unplugged, CoderDojo, Tynker, just to name a few.  
 
No matter what your opinion is on the best first code language to learn, any will open your child’s eyes to a whole new world, where the geeks have become rock stars and are highly sought after by every technology company in Silicon Valley and beyond. Besides, your son or daughter just might create the next app that changes the world and you can take a little of the credit.
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Randal RedbergEE Managing Member
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Comments (5)

As geeks we can help more than just our own children by starting or helping at a coding club.

I certainly intend to get my children involved as as soon as their ready

https://www.codeclub.org.uk/
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Randy: Love the article!

When I was school age, we didn't learn to code, but we did learn music theory, transposition, etc.  It was part of the school music arts curriculum and was something you could supplement if you took music lessons.  The same kind of thinking was involved - a disciplined approach to achieve a structured outcome.  If I were designing an elementary school curriculum today, I would definitely include coding, perhaps using Java, or Python and a Raspberry Pi, so the students could "do stuff" and see the results with instant gratification.  But I think I would do it on the same scale as the school arts program in music.  Dip a toe and see if you like the waters.

Most grade school students are not really very good at anything, though a few shine in sports, spelling, music and dance, etc.  I expect that the young experience of coding will be similar.  Children can be plus-or-minus 3 years in any dimension of development - academic, linguistic, athletic, spiritual, and still be under the fat part of the bell curve.  For some, coding will be a thrill.  For others, they will find inspiration in theater or baseball or something else.

One of the most successful men I know drove a truck to work his way through college, majoring in English.  He joined IBM after college, but didn't really take well to programming, so he became a salesman.  There's more to the story, of course, but I can say with 100% certainty (as a programmer) that programming is overrated when you compare it to the general disciplines of salesmanship, organization, oratory and leadership.  The many programmers he hired, myself among them, made fortunes while he made a very large fortune.  And none of us regrets our choices nor our places in the story of our lives together.  We are what we are, and I could not have led his organization any more than he could have written my code.  

If you delve into the 100 greatest speeches of all time (Google that concept) and look for thematic similarities, you will find that they are all about causes and relationships.  These are the things that derive from our most closely held values, and that move our hearts, our minds, our armies, and our destiny.

Study programming and coding?  Sure!  It will enrich at least as many young lives as music.  But for the sake of our children, let's keep coding in perspective, in the context of our values, causes and relationships.
Randal RedbergEE Managing Member
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Thank you Ray. 100% agree on your point of enriching our lives just as music does.

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I love this article! Thanks :)
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Great article and totally agree.  I think Wired had an article along the same lines a year or two ago.  It really does make a lot of sense.

Learning French today may seem like a good idea but (a) technology is already making it largely unnecessary - I can certainly get around France with translation tools that already exist and will get a lot better in the next 10 years and (b) almost all "human" languages are effectively dying out - we just aren't noticing.  Almost every person in France under 30 speaks perfect English and when they meet somebody from Denmark or Thailand, they all speak English.

Within the next 50 years it's hard to see how any languages beyond English, Spanish and Mandarin will be in widespread use.  So assuming you already know one of these, a much better use of your time is to understand a bit about "how computers think".

Great stuff.

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