Engineer tells students computer science can save the world

Engineer tells students computer science can save the world
Posted on 12/09/2014
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James Whittaker let students in on the secret to getting rich and solving the world’s problems at the same time: coding.

“The new lower classes are going to be the people who can’t code,” Whittaker told a Java class at Ingraham High School on Dec. 8 to kick off Computer Science Education Week. Whittaker is a Distinguished Engineer at Microsoft.

“It’s already happening,” Whittaker says of this “massive shift” that he compared with the Industrial Revolution. “Silicon Valley is wealthier than Hollywood for the first time.”

Many students at all grade levels in Seattle Public Schools are participating in the Hour of Code, initiated last year by Seattle-based Code.org as a way to encourage all students to spend at least one hour learning coding language during Computer Science Education Week.

Beyond the Hour of Code activities at many Seattle schools this week, nine schools officially offer computer science, including Ingraham. Others are: Cleveland, Rainier Beach, Garfield, Nathan Hale, Roosevelt and Ballard high schools; and Broadview Thomson and Eckstein middle schools. At Ingraham, the courses include Java I/II, Web Design, Microsoft Academy/Business Applications, an intro course and an International Baccalaureate course.

And interest is building at Ingraham in IGNITE (Inspiring Girls Now in Technology Evolution). The school’s Girls Who Code chapter is meeting for the first time this week.

“Our ‘sold out’ November 20 coding field trip to Microsoft really piqued the girls’ interest in computer science,” says Stephen Codling, department head for business, marketing and technology at Ingraham.

Microsoft was also key to bringing in Whittaker. Microsoft’s TEALS (Technology Education and Literacy in Schools) program already supplies the teachers for Ingraham’s intro course and tapped Whittaker to speak this week.

Whittaker, who leads classes on finding career success for Microsoft interns, believes coding should be taught as a core subject like reading and writing for all students.

Improved software is killing off a number of job options, including the photography, book and music industries – and soon the movie industry, Whittaker told the students. But coding opens up new opportunities.

“If you want to survive in this new economy, you are going to have to learn to code,” he said.

And it’s not just about making money. Whittaker points to a long list of advancements in fields such as astronomy, genetics, brain science and many others made possible only through sophisticated code. He believes global warming, for example, can be addressed through technology.

“Software is the one thing that can solve it – software and your creativity,” he says. “Without software, we’re all just a bunch of Muggles."

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