It's Computer Science Education Week, and Microsoft is betting that exposing students to an "Hour of Code" will not only give the IT industry a lift, but will also radically change lives.
Coding can have a dramatic effect on a person's career trajectory, according to Peter Lee, corporate vice president and head of Microsoft Research. In a blog post, he said that a "computer science education is a ticket to upward mobility," before asserting that "every student deserves to have access to it."
Microsoft employees are participating in many of the nearly 29,000 events planned for Computer Science Education Week (Dec. 9-15). Taking place in 160 countries, the events are expected to reach 4 million students.
Computer Science Education Week is held annually by Code.org and the Computing in the Core coalition. The program kicks off each year to commemorate the birthday of computing pioneer Admiral Grace Murray Hopper, who was born Dec. 9, 1906. (Rival Google made Hopper the subject of the company's "Google Doodle" for Dec. 9, on what would have been her 107th birthday.)
"Hour of Code allows us to reach students, engage them and show how fun programming can be. I am proud that Microsoft's tools will play an important role in doing this," said Lee.
Those tools include Microsoft Research's Kodu Game Lab, based on the company's visual programming language. With Kodu, budding developers can create games and interactive environments.
Another offering, called TouchDevelop, supports the creation of "mobile apps and games on any smartphone, tablet or PC," stated Microsoft News staffer Suzanne Choney. It's a learning tool and development platform that focuses on coding for touch-enabled mobile devices without a PC.
TouchDevelop also enables developers to leverage mobile sensors (GPS, accelerometers) as they build their apps. "You can write scripts simply by tapping on the screen, and you can share your scripts on the TouchDevelop website or submit them to the Windows Store or the Windows Phone Store," said Choney.
Microsoft, like Code.org, seeks to "demystify" computer science. Rane Johnson-Stempson, education and scholarly communication principal research director for Microsoft Research, feels that coding is often portrayed to young people, girls particularly, as an arduous discipline.
Johnson-Stempson said they "only hear about the difficult tasks of programming and algorithms; they don't hear about the art, creativity and problem solving required to ensure an application meets the end user's needs." The company's efforts to attract students to computer programming, and science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) in general, include a number of YouthSpark "digital literacy" programs.
Apart from the inherent educational benefits, an "Hour of Code" can help set students on the path toward in-demand jobs. Microsoft's Lori Forte Harnick, general manager for citizenship and public affairs, noted that programming jobs "are growing at two times the national average in the U.S., yet less than 2.4 percent of college students are graduating with a degree in computer science."
"In light of this continued mismatch between skills and jobs, we are increasing our efforts to bring technology education to youth," she was quoted in the blog post.
In an Oct. 14 statement announcing that Microsoft was joining the Hour of Code campaign, Brad Smith, general counsel and executive vice president of Legal & Corporate Affairs, indicated that the classroom is just one of many fronts in Microsoft's battle to popularize computer science education. He said his company "wants every American student to have the opportunity to learn computer science, a goal we are supporting through our partnering work in communities, extensive outreach to a broad array of stakeholders and policy advocacy at all levels of government."