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This piece aired on KQED-FM.
By Christina So
I’m going to pick on you a lot.” That was the first thing my supervisor Kurt said to me when I joined the App Lab. It’s a department at Youth Radio that teaches young people how to write computer code.
Kurt explained that as a female who was interested in programming, I would be treated as a unique specimen in the male-dominated world of tech. He said he not only wanted me to be able to handle the pressure, but to be better than the competition.
I joined the App Lab mostly because of the word App – short for application. My favorite apps were games, and I played them a lot. Back then, my 4th generation iPod touch was a major part of my life. I spent at least 3 hours a day staring at that little miracle producing screen. But over time my interest changed from playing games, to learning how to create them.
I started with the most fundamental computer language: HTML. It was simple, easy, and straightforward, but the end product was bland and bare. That’s where CSS came in. It makes up for HTML’s lack of finesse. Then I moved on to Python. It’s an even more complicated language that constricted me like an actual python.
All these languages got me thinking. I’ve been learning Mandarin and Cantonese since I was a little kid, because my dad thinks it will be important for my future. But I think computer programming is a must-learn language.
Many of tomorrow’s jobs will most certainly be in tech. But computer programming, the foundation of technology, isn’t something we’re teaching our young people. Only 19% of high school students take a rigorous computer science course. That might explain why only three percent of students graduate from college with a degree in computer science. Beyond that, the tech industry needs to be diversified. Less than a quarter of computer programmers are women.
The next Bill Gates could actually be a Jill Gates, but we might never know unless we teach more kids about computer programming.