If the host of online coding tools, mentorship programs, and paeans to the value of a STEM education still aren't enough to get America coding, recently launched nonprofit Code.org hopes that Will.i.am might do the trick. Directed by Lesley Chilcott, known for producing An Inconvenient Truth and American school system documentary Waiting for 'Superman,' a newly-launched promotional video promotes coding in schools by emphasizing how easy basic skills are to acquire. The point of the 5-minute video is to make coding accessible, as well as to further associate it with not only startup heroes like Mark Zuckerberg but celebrities like Will.i.am and basketball player Chris Bosh.
"Coding is something that can be learned," says Bosh, who is shown with the descriptor "NBA All-Star / Coded in college." Others, like Bill Gates or Valve's Gabe Newell, describe their first computer programs or reassure people that you don't need to know more than basic math to start learning. Between the testimonials, you'll find shots of 3D printers, electric cars, and Deadmau5, which indeed all incorporate coding to some extent. The New York Times reports that Microsoft will help pay for the short to be shown in Regal cinemas as an ad over the coming week, and Mark Zuckerberg will promote it to his followers.
While Code.org discusses coding as a basic skill, it's also upfront about appealing to potential programmers' self-interest. One of the organization's biggest talking points is the unmet demand for "computer jobs," which it estimates will create a gap of 1 million more jobs than students by 2020. Along with shots of in-house arcades and snack bars at featured companies, the video is meant to deliver a simple message: learn to code, and you'll get a great job. Also, according to Gabe Newell, you'll "look like you have magic powers."
"You're going to look like you have magic powers."
The organization's goals are a bit nebulous, however. For now, it's concentrating on figuring out where coding is offered in secondary schools, building a database of computer capabilities and programming classes. More broadly, it's both extremely idealistic and maddeningly vague, telling students to "ask about a coding class at your school or learn online." The site provides links to places like the Khan Academy or Codecademy, and the "find a local school" section could potentially be a good future resource — though we doubt many students will be able to switch out simply to get a better coding course.
Nations worldwide are working on building up their computer science capabilities. Estonia is testing a new, coding-heavy educational curriculum, and the cheap and simple Raspberry Pi computer is meant as a classroom aid. Code.org could provide interesting cultural input right now, but in the long term, simply telling kids to start coding will need to shift towards building tools to do so into their everyday lives.