Gates, Zuckerberg: Kids, learn to code

Gates, Zuckerberg: Kids, learn to code
Tech Corner

POSTED: Friday, March 8, 2013 - 4:00am

UPDATED: Friday, March 8, 2013 - 4:04am

Hey kids! Forget trying to become a doctor or rapper or a football star, not to mention all the teasing you may get in school for being a nerd -- computers are where it's at.

That's one message of a new video in which Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey and other tech execs urge young people to learn computer programming.

"Learning how to program didn't start off with wanting to learn all of computer science or trying to master this discipline or anything like that," Zuckerberg says. "It started off because I wanted to do this one simple thing -- I wanted to make something that was fun for myself and my sisters."

Gates says, "I was 13 when I first got access to a computer. I wrote a program to play tick-tack-toe."

The five-minute clip, called "What Most Schools Don't Teach," was posted online Tuesday by Code.org, a new nonprofit foundation that seeks to cultivate computer science in U.S. school curricula. The foundation argues there is a worldwide shortage of computer programmers but that only 1 in 10 schools in America teach kids how to code.

"Our policy (at Facebook) is literally to hire as many talented engineers as we can find," Zuckerberg says. "The whole limit in the system is that there aren't enough people who are trained and have these skills today."

The Facebook CEO appears to be passionate about supporting technology and science education. Last week Zuckerberg and a handful of other tech execs announced a $3 million annual prize for researchers doing life-saving work, saying he hoped it would inspire future scientists.

The "What Most Schools Don't Teach" clip tries to make coding seem accessible and easy for anyone with a basic understanding of math.

"Addition, subtraction, that's about it," Gates says with a smile.

"It's really not unlike playing an instrument, or playing a sport," says Drew Houston, who created file-sharing site Dropbox. "Even if you want to become a race-car driver, or play baseball, or, you know, build a house -- all of these things have been turned upside down by software."

Also featured in the video are musician Will.i.am and NBA star Chris Bosh, both of whom have taken coding classes.

There's been much recent hand-wringing in Silicon Valley about how the United States is lagging behind other countries in developing future software engineers. Code.org claims that computer-programming jobs are growing at twice the U.S. national average while less than 2.4 percent of college students graduate with degrees in computer science -- less than 10 years ago.

The video also emphasizes the perks and casual vibe of working at a deep-pocketed tech company, where employees get free food, work barefoot and skateboard around the office.

"The programmers of tomorrow are the wizards of the future," says Gabe Newell, co-founder of video game developer Valve. "You're going to look like you have magic powers compared to everybody else."

The clip already has been viewed more than 2 million times on YouTube. Code.org hopes to get it shown in schools across the country.

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