This week is UK Hour of Code week, a global initiative run by non-profit organisation Code.org that aims to introduce anyone of any age to the basics of coding. During the last Hour of Code week, over 3 million people took part in the UK alone and over 100 million people have taken part worldwide in the three years that the global initiative has been running.
Supported by some of the UK’s most influential people including Baroness Joanna Shields and Baroness Martha Lane Fox, the UK Hour of Code is a one hour introduction to computer science, designed to demystify coding and enable parents, teachers and students to get a hands-on introduction to the digital world.
These days almost everything around us has a digital aspect – you can do your banking online, your shopping online, you can talk to your friends and family online and your job will almost certainly involve something digital. Yet many people are still intimidated by the terms ‘programming’, ‘coding’ or ‘software’ and there is a misconception that computer science is only for the maths geniuses among us.
When I attended school a decade ago, IT and computing lessons made no mention of coding – instead our time was spent almost entirely on Microsoft Office, concentrating on mastering Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, Excel, Publisher and Access. Whilst I do still use at least the first three on a regular basis, looking back I don’t think it was something that we needed to spend so much time on.
It wasn’t that my classmates weren’t interested in the digital world either, as I recall groups of students spending their lunch hours in the computer suite, creating basic websites to share with their friends, or looking up how to change the backgrounds on their Myspace pages. If the link had been made between these types of activities and our IT lessons, I’m confident that more pupils would have chosen to look into it further. Instead, only a minority of the year group ended up choosing to study at GCSE level and beyond.
Since joining Yard in June this year, I have attended careers events, workshops and even recently went back into a school to talk to the students about pursuing a career in digital. Whilst it is clear that there is now a great deal more exposure to coding in lessons at school which is excellent, I have still been surprised by how few young people are aware of exactly why learning to code is important and what careers could be available to them.
We have a team of highly skilled developers and analysts working at Yard, some who have studied the subject at university and some who have taught themselves everything they know. We recently profiled three of our team members as part of My Tech Partnership’s #MyTechStory campaign and whilst one of our analysts had always known he wanted to work with computers and technology, two of our web developers only decided to study the subject further after doing well in their lessons at school – something that I think emphasises just how important it is for IT lessons to be inspiring pupils to want to learn more.
According to Tech Partnership, 2.3 million digitally skilled workers will be needed by 2020 as the tech industry continues to grow, however, this means that we need more and more young people to gain the technical capability required by these positions. With parents ambivalent about young people’s digital use, and teachers and schools sometimes struggling to stay up to date with skills needs, students are just not taking up this vital STEM subject in the numbers needed. However, the fact that the digital sector is only continuing to grow means that tech specialists are more likely than the average worker to be in a permanent position, as well as earning up to 35% more than their colleagues in other fields – making a career in tech a fantastic option for the next generation.
So, how can you get involved? There are a whole host of inspiring videos, games, tutorials and puzzles available for anyone to work through on the Code.org website. They’re actually available to play all year round, but there’s a particular focus on raising awareness during Hour of Code week. I had a go at the Star Wars coding game and you can find out what I thought about it on our Facebook page here. Alternatively, you can support the initiative by spreading the word as much as possible this week!
-Lauren Pearson, PR & Marketing Executive, Yard