Over the last seven years, Liz Davidson and I had the privilege of working with hundreds of inspiring students from low-income communities. We saw our students accomplish amazing things. Some were the first in their families to go to college. Some overcame language barriers to become valedictorians and salutatorians of their high school classes. Others earned high grades despite job and family commitments. These students told us they were going to be journalists, doctors, forensic scientists, lawyers, teachers and artists. None of them ever told us they were going to be computer scientists. Or web developers. Or videogame makers. Or software engineers. In fact, most of our students never knew these tech-related careers were an option or even existed.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average occupational sector shrank by 5 percent during the Great Recession. However, the computer and mathematical field grew by 6.9 percent. The Bureau predicts that the sector will grow another 22 percent by 2020, making it one of the fastest growing career fields. Computer programmers are in such high demand that tech firms like Microsoft are lobbying to increase the quota of H1B visas, a visa available to skilled foreign workers, so they can recruit and hire talent from overseas. Last year, the H1B visa cap was reached in only 10 weeks. This year, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services predicts that this cap could be reached in just a few days.
While tech companies scramble to hire workers from overseas to fill jobs, there is a severe lack of talent-development happening here in the United States. Code.org reports that nine out of ten schools do not offer computer science courses. Schools have difficulty finding certified teachers to lead computer science courses -- in most states, teacher certification requirements for computer science are either obscure or non-existent. The Computer Science Teachers Association reports that certification requirements that do exist are often unrelated to computer science content.
A flurry of programs and platforms have sprung up to address this problem. For those who want to teach themselves, there's Codecademy and Coursera and many, many other online platforms. For people who want in-real-life instruction, there's Dev Bootcamp, and General Assembly, and for kids, CoderDojo. There are endless resources available for people who want to learn.
There is one big problem, though. Students who don't know programming is a career option won't know to seek out these resources. Students who haven't grown up with computers in their households haven't been playing around with webpages their whole lives (as many of the current crop of programmers admit to having done). Students who haven't been exposed to a culture of software development cannot strive to be included in that culture or change it.
If we want our students to think about careers in software development, we need to provide them with access, information and mentors.
That's why last year, Liz and I launched ScriptEd, a nonprofit that brings computer programming education directly to high schools in low-income communities. Our classes are taught by volunteers from the tech industry. Our students have been on field trips and job shadows, and this summer they'll take the foundational skills they've learned this school year and apply them in 4-week internships with development teams at companies.
We're not the only organization bringing computer programming education directly to schools. TEALS is expanding its program to schools in New York City this Fall. The Academy for Software Engineering opened last September, and will open a second school in the Bronx this Fall. Code.org released a video that went viral and is inspiring many more students and schools to think of coding as something they can take part in, too.
Our ScriptEd students know computer programming is a career option for them. They know they can be part of the community of software developers. We still have a work to do, but we're heading in the right direction.