Commentary

Kristen Powers: Year of Code must redraw nerdy dude in the basement stereotype

January 7, 2014 

Every year has to have a theme. While the votes aren’t in for 2013, some of the contenders might include The Year of Miley, The Year of #Hashtags, or even The Year of Buzzfeed. While we haven’t had a chance to recover from this intense debate, I’d like to jump the gun and propose a theme for the year of 2014: The Year of Code.

For some, the image this theme conjures up is that of a nerdy dude coding in his parents’ basement. That image is totally 2013. In The Year of Code, America will re-draw its image of coders to include women, minorities, and individuals of all ages. In The Year of Code, programming will go mainstream because it has to.

My school, Stanford University, is highly influenced by our neighbors in Silicon Valley. In 2012-13, Computer Science ranked second on the list of “Majors Granting Highest Number of Undergraduate Degrees” ( facts.stanford.edu). Many of my peers have worked for the likes of Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and countless other tech startups. Despite the ever-present chatter about coding, this programmer’s haven highlights major equality disparities within the sector, an unfortunate pattern found throughout the country.

Only 21 percent of the computer science majors at Stanford University are women ( techcrunch.com). Minority races continue to also be the minority within the tech sector. While programs like She++ and Black Girls Code are making an effort to increase the representation of these populations, this problem cannot be solved by nonprofits alone. Our educational system needs to start taking computer science education seriously in order to alleviate these gaps.

My alma mater, Chapel Hill High School, did not require students to take computer course. Most students, including myself, graduated never having taken a programming class. (This decision is one of my biggest regrets from high school.) Yet, in order to remain competitive in the global economy, we need to start taking computer science seriously.

We can start right here in North Carolina. According to Computer Science Education Week, computer science should satisfy a graduation requirement for a math or science course. This change wouldn’t require adding more teachers or creating new classes; rather, it would provide incentive for college-bound high school students to take a computer class before graduating. To take this a step further, North Carolina could establish rigorous standards for computer science focused on the creation (not just the use) of software and other computing technologies” ( csedweek.org). The Computer Science Teachers Association has already created model K-12 CS standards on which such standards could be based. Code.org also offers additional resources for implementing these courses in school districts across the country.

To move toward a competitive, equal access economy, we need to pull out all the stops to ensure The Year of Code overrides the stereotypes and obstacles preventing us from pursuing the high-demand jobs of the 21st century.

Kristen Powers lives in Chapel Hill.

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