Career Day visit and observations

Message for Career Day and Do I Have To Be Really Good at Math to Code?

I had the opportunity to visit my daughter's school recently for Career Day.  As a long time IT professional and recent entrepreneur with a personal career winding through technology, I had to first decide what should the message and advice for the kids be?  As someone who also speaks to kids about coding and technology on an almost daily basis it was obvious that I could be entertaining and show them fun programming tools.  However if I wanted to focus on a "career choice" what should my message be?

The school was kind enough to give the presenters a list of possible talking points.  The first was "name your career and the career cluster to which it belongs".  The career clusters included a long list including architecture, construction, arts, a/v technology, communications, business management and administration, education, energy, finance, government, health science, law, manufacturing, STEM, transportation, and more.  Which one of these did my career belong to?  I could check off several items on this list so no one "career cluster" really fit.  And then it hit me.  Programming the technology associated with it span all of these fields!  Every single one of these these have been impacted by technology, coding, and automation, in some way.

So I told the kids that I had was going to let them in on a secret.  I read them the long list and told them that my career cluster was all of them.  The secret was that if they learned about coding while still in school then they could use that knowledge in any career they found interesting.  When they one day go to college or into the workforce with these skills they would have an advantage over everyone who didn't.  At the very least I told them to give programming a try and see if they like it.  I think this was surprising to them and it was fun to see the response and answer their questions.

The teachers were wonderful and were genuinely as interested as the kids in what I had to show them.  We have a nationwide teacher shortage in computer science and hopefully my talk also gave them some ideas about where they could start to incorporate coding into their curriculum.  But one teacher asked a great question, "Do I have to be really good at math to program?"  This was a wonderful question because there is a big misconception that coding requires a lot of difficult math.  I told her, no!  Not at all!  Most programming only requires a knowledge of simple algebra.  I have never needed to calculate integrals to finish a program but you would have never known it based on my bachelor degree math requirements.  To prove it I showed them some math in Python and Java programs and we saw together that it was not intimidating.  Just simple arithmetic.

We finished by looking at some Scratch, Python, and Java programs and changed the code in each to see what happens.  These were all coding tools that the kids can download at home and I showed them where they could find out more.  I told them about Start Code, of course, and that we have coding class for kids in Decatur and Atlanta if they wanted to try it.  They were enthusiastic and appreciative.  The biggest surprise was the envelope of thank you notes that arrived a week later, some of which are in the photo above.  The notes really made me feel good about the day and I will definitely go back next year if invited.  Thanks, kids!