The Year of Code campaign is a great opportunity to boost our skills gap and get children excited about what has been dubbed as the fourth literacy. It's been a great opportunity to get coding & technology back on the agenda and to highlight the vast opportunities that lie in this sector.
I tip my hat to the team in the US that ran the 'Hour of Code' last year with great support from President Obama. I really do applaud the UK contingent who have worked so hard to bring it across the Atlantic so soon. I do wish that the UK's Year of Code seizes this opportunity and platform to make a real change in attitudes. I do hope they'll attempt to leverage the organisations that have been working on this issue since before the first hour of code.
I do hope that they'll maximise the platform and will work hard to not reinforce any stereotypes about code being 'gobbledygook', and a dark art. I do hope that they'll be able to convey the creative, sometimes altruistic nature of coding & technology. I hope that through the campaign, they'll be able to show that everyone should give coding a try and have a proper appreciation of what's going on behind the scenes when we visit our favourite website or download the latest 'top app'.
Lastly, I hope that this push will help the 'less likely' part of society to feel like coding is something they can do, and something they can see themselves potentially having a future in; be they female, black, disabled or LGBT.
A nationwide campaign aiming to do this is a noble one, and one that, as a technologist, I'm excited to see. I've been coding since I was a child, and to this day, still get a buzz from working in technology and encouraging others (particularly girls, via Stemettes) to try and get stuck in.
That's why I was disheartened, shocked and embarrassed to see the Year of Code segment broadcast on BBC Newsnight on February 5th. RaspberrPi Synthesizer has blogged a deconstruction which highlights exactly why.
Unfortunately she was undone by three key points, which speak volumes about the way this is being managed, and about the state of much in the UK in 2014 -
1) She is very pretty and Paxman is a terrible flirt. This resulted in too many sparkling eyes and a descent into trivialization, but this actually saved her bacon because
2) She does not have the weaponry required to represent and articulate the benefits of 'coding' as a key skill. Paxman is a tiger shark when he gets a whiff of blood, and went after her, quite rightly, as her responses to his key question - 'why do children need this' got inadequate answers. But she is very pretty and Paxman is a terrible flirt so he backed off after only a couple of bites.
3) Her absolute lack of technical knowledge about anything at all made her incapable of anything other than stock, veneer, soundbite answers. The 'testing her own campaign' piece is actually brilliant, but it proved her undoing.
You're doing good work, people. Make sure it shows. In the famous works of Dizzee Rascal: 'Fix up, Look Sharp'.