I got into computers fairly early because of my father. He went back to university in 1986 in his early 40s and did a BSc. in Computer Science. I was 11 years old. Our first computer was a PC of some kind; I don’t remember what it was, but I remember it was expensive, $7,000+ or so. My father then went on to work “in computers” for 15 years. I say “in computers” because that’s what everyone called it back then, it was easier than explaining what he really did.
Strangely enough, I didn’t really get into programming. I’m not sure why, it seems like it would have been a natural fit. But I did get a very healthy appreciation for technology, and was well ahead of my friends. I remember BBSs and later on MUDs (which I still love, although don’t play. I even started coding in C and C++ for a MUD that I was running; it was insanely fun.) I remember going to a summer camp where we learned Logo.
At the time, computers weren’t particularly prominent in schools. They existed, but all we were really doing was word processing. I remember Typing Tutor from “computer class” in high school where kids were just learning how to type. Pretty silly by today’s standards.
Today, my seven year old son in Grade 2 has computers in his class. Some schools are experimenting with iPads at even younger ages. A lot more kids will grow up with a lot more technology. That’s a given; there’s a lot more technology that’s easily accessible. But unless the education system starts teaching programming in schools, a lot of that technology will go to waste.
Almost five years ago I wrote 10 Things They Need to Teach in Highschool. I should have put programming at the top of the list, instead of the bottom.
But more than teaching programming, we need to encourage and incentivize kids to create things. Build things. Invent things. Knowing the mechanics of coding is one thing, but being inspired, motivated and rewarded for building stuff is key. That’s what will help create more entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs are builders. We like to build things. I was inspired by my parents and what they had done as entrepreneurs, and I’m sure there’s some genetics involved as well … but kids spend so much time in school and can be so influenced by their years there that I’m certain more could be done. Teach kids to code. And teach kids to build. Actually, I think most kids already know how to build, and a lot of kids want to build stuff … but they need the educational system to endorse and reward their activity, otherwise they can’t get through the system successfully. It’s not as simple as saying, “get out of the way” because the system is the way, and at least while kids are in school (particularly in the earlier years) they have to play by the rules. So the rules need to change.