This week schools across the country will hold workshops to celebrate the Hour of Code. More than a million students will learn coding basics, like how languages work and what types of jobs computer scientists can expect. Uber-geeks like Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates have made virtual appearances in classrooms from Kansas to Massachusetts via a prefilmed lesson plan, telling kids that programming is the future.
It’s part of national Computer Science Education Week, a program backed by none other than President Barack Obama, who recorded a video to introduce it: “Learning these skills isn’t just important for your future, it’s important for our country’s future,” he said. “If we want America to stay on the cutting edge, we need young Americans like you to master the tools and technology that will change the way we do just about everything.”
The Hour of Code takes on more meaning when placed in the larger context of Silicon Valley’s recent political efforts. Yes, it’s a fun public information initiative. A nice PR stunt. A beneficial educational program. It’s also a symbol of the tech community’s increasing power.
In recent years, CEOs and startup founders have infiltrated folds of society not traditionally in their scope. The FWD.us lobby group backed by Reid Hoffman, John Doerr, Mark Zuckerberg, and other tech heavyweights, is advocating for immigration reform in Washington. Jeff Bezos bought The Washington Post and eBay’s Pierre Omidyar is funding a $250 million journalism venture run by Glenn Greenwald. Tech companies are striking back against government surveillance, and they’re expanding their reach in institutions and sectors that they previously avoided.
Like immigration, fronting media companies, and standing up to the NSA, the Hour of Code is more than what it seems at first glance. It’s not only a way to “demystify code by recruiting schools, teachers and parents across the country to introduce students to computer science for one hour.” It’s an opportunity for the tech community to reach the next generation while they’re still young, to convince them that working for, supporting, and starting their own tech companies are not only valid options, they’re smart moves.
It’s attempting to drum up rock star-like prestige for the tentpoles of Silicon Valley, inspiring admiration and respect from students. To help lend credence to the cause, the likes of Shakira, Ashton Kutcher, and Sarah Michelle Geller show up in the Hour of Code video alongside Jack Dorsey, Mark Zuckerberg, and Bill Gates.
There’s the fervent hope that the glitz of celebritydom will rub off on the geeking of America, and this will entice young people to jump in while the water is warm and promote these Silicon Valley causes. No wonder tech heavyweights have donated not just thousands of dollars, but tens of millions to this non-profit educational program.
The startup world is no longer content to being confined to its bubble of digital devices and software. It wants to take over and transform everything: transportation, space travel, food, healthcare. To do that, it needs the backing and support of regulators, the loyalty of consumers, and the trust of the American people.
You know what they say? Get ‘em while they’re young.
[Image courtesy: Whiteafrican]