Most people have heard about the important and almost urgent need to get children more engaged in STEM and more specifically computer programming, but why is it so critical? Computers and technology are everywhere and part of our everyday lives. In fact, 67% of software jobs are outside the technology industry in traditionally non-technology fields like entertainment, retail, government, and even agriculture.

The concern is that there might be 1,000,000 unfilled computer programming jobs by 2020 which represents a $500 billion employment opportunity. This potential gap comes from the increased demand for computer programming combined with fewer computer science graduates now than 10 years ago. To make matters worse, 90% of US schools don’t teach computer programming at the K-12 level. Even when classes exist, how many students get access? Our local high school is in that 10%, but only has one class – AP Computer Science – which only accommodates a small percentage of students.

Where are kids supposed to start? Our local schools peaked kids’ interest with the Hour of Code (hourofcode.com) challenge last year, which gave them a taste of what they could do with coding. However, there wasn’t any next step. Where do they go from there?

As parents, we need to take the initiative to get our kids interested in computer programming. This summer we encouraged our daughters to work on coding at code.organd tynker.com. They spent hours and hours learning some of the basic principles of programming via fun games and challenges on their own and together as a team. Along the way, they’ve become more determined and developed their problem solving skills.

Another option is a more structured class, workshop, or camp. Our public library offered a free workshop over the summer. There are also several organizations with coding classes for kids. Figure out what environment works best for your kids and let them give it a try.

As Nicholas Negroponte eloquently points out in the quote above, computing is no longer just about computers. It is a pervasive force behind an increasingly large part of our lives. Our kids can either help drive this change, or be driven by it. We need to provide them the tools and opportunities to be on the driver’s side.