My Own Story with Coding

In 1985, my parents spent a lot of money on a full system Commodore 128 (CPU, Monitor, printer, desk and chair, and a fair amount of software). While I’m sure they knew it was a good buy for their kids, I don’t think they could have imagined the kind of impact it made for me. That same year I took my first programming class. It was offered at my school for only the GATE students, and I was one.

The circumstances of my early exposure to computers make me very lucky. Few kids had computers at their school, only a select few of those were allowed to use them, and fewer still had computers at home. But I was very lucky, so I learned to code. First programming with the Apple computers at school, moving sprites across the screen, then learning there was a magazine I could subscribe to called RUN, dedicated to those with Commodore computers.

I would spend hours at the computer after school and during the summer (in addition to the miles and miles I rode my BMX, I’m a geek, not a shut-in). I would copy code line by line from the pages of RUN into the Commodore to make happen what the article promised. It was never right the first time (foreshadowing to my current career both in the value of debugging and the perils of by-hand data entry).

I could play PONG on my computer!!!

Leap forward 10 years; I became a tutor in Computer Science at Community College. Leap forward a few more; I’m designing software for Washington Mutual Bank even though I was just a staff accountant.

Where this leaves me, and collectively us; is in a world where knowing how to code really helps every career. I was sitting down earlier this week with a young engineer who reflected on his job thus far and mentioned he isn’t doing a whole lot of ‘engineering’, but a lot of database analysis and SQL writing instead. I commented: “You know: you’re doing that because the other engineers can’t.” He thought about my comment and realized coding was really a competitive edge.

“Yeah, I guess knowing this stuff is just modern engineering.”

“… and every profession in our age.”

According to a study by Leichtman Research Group, 59% of American Households with an income under $30,000 a year use a computer at home. 97% of American Households with an income over $50,000 do, and that percentage is exceeded by the number of classrooms with computers. The gap in computer use at home created by income must be addressed by our schools. Knowing how to code should be treated today as a fundamental knowledge set, worthy of a section of class just like reading, writing, and arithmetic.

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