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Computational Thinking

Coding - Computational Thinking

Yesterday, I read a bunch of articles about universities offering classes on computers, specifically coding classes. These classes are extremely popular and can sometimes carry a waiting list. The coding mania has even extended down to the elementary school level. So a lot of people are getting on the STEM train ride. In a few years, companies will no longer be able to say they can't find talent - there will be so many of them! Be careful of what you wish for.

I think some of the courses will be about specific coding languages, but others will be more along the lines of "computational thinking" where the way computers think, not the specific language, will be taught. Computational thinking is a form of logic. So we have a situation where humans are learning how to think like computers while computers are being trained to think like humans. Kind of an interesting situation.

One of the articles provided sample exam questions on computational thinking and they look and feel like logic problems: if Sally has two sisters and she is sitting next to her younger sister, while Ann, who is sitting across from Julie, loves cats and

hates dogs has a sister and a brother, and so on and so forth. If computational thinking is similar to logic problems (and they are), then we've been learning it through our math classes and, for those who pursue such past times, through Dell logic puzzle books. The only difference is that these classes are being directly tied to computers and all things coding. Programming and coding is a special kind of logic thinking, but it is logic thinking.

The inclusion of these classes at the elementary level indicates that coding will be one of the four necessary skills required to be taught in schools: arithmetic, reading, writing and now coding. The kids coming up through the schools today will be well versed in coding such that it will be second nature. Some will be better at it than others but everyone will have some experience of coding. Knowing how to code will be table stakes in the job market: you will need to know how to code just like you need to know how to read. There will be some social implications, especially those concerning the elders. The elders, those in their 40s and 50s now, did not have coding as part of their curriculum, unless they took it as part of their undergraduate degree. What this means is that in about 10 to 15 years, these kids will be graduating from schools with years of experience in coding and will be competing against the elders. It will be interesting to see how that turns out. The elders don't have the luxury of time like young kids do because they have to make a living. So maybe the executive level elder will be able to compete because he is the boss and can dictate the rules but what about those who are professionals or mid-level?

Yes, knowing how to code will be table stakes, but that doesn't mean you automatically get great jobs because you know how to code. Because everyone else (young) will also know how to code. Just like everyone knows how to write (maybe not well) but only a few become famous writers, largely because you have to have something more than just writing skills: you have to be able to tell a story and string together sentences in a beautiful or convincing way to stand out. We don't have reading jobs unless you regard editors as kind of a reading job. Today we have people who are just programmers/coders and make good money, but in the future, we most likely won't have programmers/coders unless you are a superstar programmer. One reason is because everyone else will already know how to code and two, software itself will be programming/coding too. You will need to know how to code just to be relevant but it won't get you the job.

I think computational thinking has a shortcoming: it's a narrow form of thinking. Mathematical, logical thinking does not tell you what kind of questions to answer. It can't deal with the messiness of human issues. Would a math formula solve the sticky issue of terrorism? Could computational thinking envision a solution on what to do about mass unemployment? Design thinking might be a better route because the methodology expands to unconventional thinking and seems more empathetic with the focus on human experience.

So go ahead and learn computational thinking but realize it will be just table stakes. You will need more. Instead, include other kinds of skills and thinking such as design thinking, systems thinking, empathy and maybe even philosophy. We need people to think more broadly than a businessman's way of thinking.

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