As Tech Booms, Workers Turn to Coding

After a three-month course in computer programming and data analysis, Paul Minton, a former math major, moved up from waiting tables to a job as a data scientist, earning more than $100,000 a year. Credit Matt Edge for The New York Times

SAN FRANCISCO — After Paul Minton graduated from college, he worked as a waiter, but always felt he should do more.

So Mr. Minton, a 26-year-old math major, took a three-month course in computer programming and data analysis. As a waiter, he made $20,000 a year. His starting salary last year as a data scientist at a web start-up here was more than $100,000.

“Six figures, right off the bat,” Mr. Minton said. “To me, it was astonishing.”

Stories like his are increasingly familiar these days as people across a spectrum of jobs — poker players, bookkeepers, baristas — are shedding their past for a future in the booming tech industry. The money sloshing around in technology is cascading beyond investors and entrepreneurs into the broader digital work force, especially to those who can write modern code, the language of the digital world.

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Community Corps Brings Digital Education to County Kids

[This is an article written on May 7, 2015 by Natalie Orenstein and published by the Remake Learning project in Pittsburgh.]

Photo by Norton Gusky

Photo by Norton Gusky

How local organizations in Pittsburgh are teaching digital literacy with help from community members.

El Círculo Juvenil de Cultura, a bilingual after-school program that teaches Latino kids about their heritage, was looking to add a digital literacy component to its curriculum. The students it serves are part of a population that is less likely to have access to digital literacy education, said Felipe Gómez, co-founder of El Círculo.

Hispanic youth actually use the Internet more than their white peers, according to the Pew Research Center. But language barriers and cash-strapped schools often mean they cannot get the guidance and scaffolding they need from adults to learn from their technology use.

Gómez said many of his students have used computers and have access to cell phones. “But beyond being users, what we’re interested in is giving them some idea of how to create the tech,” he said.

“Beyond being users, what we’re interested in is giving them some idea of how to create the tech.”

Enter the Remake Learning Digital Corps.

Like El Círculo, organizations across the educational spectrum are recognizing the urgency of digital literacy education. But many of them lack the bandwidth, knowledge, or equipment to provide it. The Digital Corps aims to meet some of this need by recruiting, training, and deploying digital learning experts to after-school programs throughout Allegheny County. The program is now wrapping up its fourth series of workshops.

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Coding – Learning a New Language

Recently Nicholas Negropointe spoke at the 2015 ASCD Conference about the importance of coding.  Years ago I discovered Mr. Negroponte after I engaged in teaching Logo, the computer language for kids developed at the MIT Media Lab by Seymour Papert and his team. For me coding was a problem-solving tool. I never thought about the fact that coding could be something more. Negroponte in his talk at the ASCD Conference shared how coding is a life-long learning tool. According to Sarah McGibben in the Conference Daily:

“…throughout his career, Negroponte’s work has been underpinned by a nagging curiosity about the way we learn. In the 1960s, his colleague Seymour Papert discovered that the process of writing computer programs (or coding), is the “closest approximation that [children] can get to learning about learning.” When you write a program, explained Negroponte, you “create an algorithm and reduce it to a set of instructions.” Such programs rarely work on the first attempt, however. If 5-year-olds are trying to generate a circle on a screen and are unsuccessful, they have to “observe the behavior of the computer” then “go back into the lines of code, find the bug, change it, and execute it again.” 

“This creates a sort of fascination with errors. When observing students in Harlem, Negroponte and Papert noticed that the children who wrote computer programs were better spellers. Why? “When you write a computer program, the fun part is the debugging,” marveled Negroponte. This desire for investigation prompted students to “joke with each other about the words they [misspelled],” and they weren’t ashamed to call out their mistakes. They were “enjoying the errors” as part of the learning process. “ (

Now I work with schools, like the South Fayette School District, where coding is a key element in computational thinking. For South Fayette computational thinking is the 21st century literacy. What Papert and Negroponte discovered in the 1980s rings true today. Learners need to have a safe environment to take risks and make mistakes. Coding provides this type of true learning environment. More importantly, learners need to have motivation to try again, to become persistent in their attempts to have success. Coding by its nature provides for iteration, the repeating of a series of steps.

Today, more than ever, we need to provide tools and strategies for all students to find value in the learning process. Coding does this across the spectrum of genders and social-economic barriers. I’ve witnessed young girls, African-American students, and challenged learners have great success working on Scratch projects. Each student discovers what Papert and Negroponte observed – a learner aware and reflecting on his/her own learning.