“I find computer languages EXTREMELY boring. More than anything else I want to be an entrepreneur (especially in something that would have a huge impact in the future, like artificial intelligence, genetic engineering, vertical farms, etc.) and not an employee, so would this be possible without knowing how to code? What should I focus on?” — 18 year old student on Reddit
The month of December isn’t just about the holidays anymore. It’s also about exploring the exciting, creative field of computer science. Yes, that’s right, computer science can be exciting!
This week marks the 3rd annual Computer Science Education Week (December 7-13, #CSedweek). It’s a week for students across the world to engage with computer programming and learn how computers “think.” It’s also a time to recognize the important influence of computer science. Many hallmarks of our world today like smartphones, apps, and social media, were only possible with the dedication of computer scientists.
The flagship event of the week is the Hour of Code (#hourofcode) hosted by the non-profit Code.org (@codeorg). Hour of Code encourages everyone (from ages 4 to 104) to spend just one hour participating in interactive, fun coding games. The goal is to engage students so they will want to continue exploring the world of coding. In one hour, the “coding bug” might be planted, inspiring a new generation of computer scientists. The Hour of Code is supported by President Obama and corporate partners like Microsoft, Facebook, and Google.
Need more inspiration to participate in the Hour of Code? See our post on 10 Reasons You Can’t Afford to Miss the Hour of Code. And watch an informative video by Code.org on how to teach an hour of code HERE.
For many students, mention of computer science brings groans and dread. This is largely because computer science is either not taught at all in schools, or taught through memorization instead of direct, real-world application. Schools looking to add effective computer science programs are struggling to figure out the best way to do this. Recently, a group of educators took to the Meetup.com forums to discuss problems with computer science implementation in New York City Schools (Can Schools Conquer Their Computer Science Demons?).
Why the Hour of Code? Why should students learn coding at all? According to stats from Code.org, the number of computer science jobs are increasing faster than students are entering the field. These are some of the highest paying jobs, earning 40% more than the college average. Inspiring students, especially girls and minorities underrepresented in the tech world, is key to filling the innovative jobs of the future.
Do Students Need to Master Computer Science and Math for Careers in Artificial Intelligence?
Computer Science Education Week is a great time for students to explore possible STEM career opportunities like data science (STEM Careers: What is a Data Scientist and What Do Students Need To Become One?). Another possible career choice is Artificial Intelligence (AI). While you may know AI from the 2001 Steven Spielberg movie and, most recently, the blockbuster Ex Machina, you may not know much about the field today. It is, without a doubt, one of the most fascinating, coolest STEM careers on the horizon, and students are into it!
AI is a recent development, coming into existence only 65 years ago. It involves creating computers and software capable of human qualities like the ability to reason, learn, and perceive. The field has experienced a recent boom, with 2015 named a “landmark year” for AI. AI is expected to become mainstream fairly soon, filling even white-collar, corporate jobs by 2025. And as the Wall Street Journal indicated in a recent article, companies and universities are investing heavily in AI (Artificial-Intelligence Experts Are in High Demand).
With the progress made in the field of AI, it is sure to draw the appeal of students wanting to build cool new robots able to speak and make decisions on their own. Many students aren’t exactly sure, though, what a career in AI involves.
“Quick summary, I’m an 18 year old who has recently graduated high school and will be going to university next year and will be either doing business, biomedical engineering, or a combination of the 2.
Now I understand that learning different languages like MATLAB and Python to learn things like Machine Learning would be most important, and while I know a bit of Java, I find computer languages EXTREMELY boring. Like I can’t be bothered to learn them unlike a language I have an avid interest in like Russian.
However, more than anything else I want to be an entrepreneur (especially in something that would have a huge impact in the future, like artificial intelligence, genetic engineering, vertical farms, etc.) and not an employee, so would this be possible without knowing how to code, but still be literate in it and what it takes? What should I focus on?” — cantstopprogress
In essence, this student is wondering whether coding knowledge is needed to make an impact in the world of artificial intelligence, and he posed the question to experts and educators. If a student came to you with this question, how would you answer it?
AI is a broad field with connections to computer science, physics, engineering, math, and neuroscience. This makes careers related to AI equally broad. From software developers and computer engineers to research scientists, there are many routes a student can take.
The problem is getting students to engage with learning it. The student in this Reddit thread, like many others, believes computer languages are boring. For students, engaging programs like Hour of Code have the ability to start a lifelong interest.
Reddit user Penguinland reiterates the importance of programming in AI:
“Without programming, how do you intend to implement your ideas and turn them into a product? In theory, you don’t need to program, but in practice you do (or you need to find cofounders who do, and then convince them that you have something useful to contribute). As others said, though, there is a whole lot of math involved. I’d focus on the math first and the programming second.”
“As someone studying towards a Machine Learning degree I’ll tell you now it is very math intensive. If you hate math, abandon hope all ye who enter here.
Computer languages are not all that important as its always changing. And once you know one language it’s not that hard to pick up others, but C++, Python, Matlab and a few others are popular in the field.
What’s more important is being able to solve seemingly simple problems that are actually very hard in a clever way. The field of Artificial Intelligence is only 65 years old, so novel ideals to old problems are what will move the field forward. This is why strong understanding algorithms is important, because the algorithm is the one thing that stays the same no matter where you go in the field or how long you’re in it.
Understand algorithms are not just logic, it is the blueprint that builds any program. You can write it on a napkin and as long as it is valid and correct you can apply it to any computer language. But most important of all is that have passion in the field you’re going into. If you have passion then you’ll have no issue learning what you need to learn to be in the field. So think critically, carefully, and take your time.”
Another user, AllenThePrettyCool, speaks of similar advanced skills needed:
“Now, this is coming from someone who, like you, has minimal knowledge where programming and advanced mathematics are concerned.
As I understand it, the distinction is mostly one of practicality. If you can’t do the programming, then obviously you cannot work in a position which would demand you to program. But being able to do it and understanding how it works are two different things. So far, I have not encountered a single mathematical idea which cannot be explained to me in a manner that I might understand it. Simply put, even if you don’t understand all the technical aspects, you can still understand what they do, how they do it, and why that’s important.
So I see no reason you shouldn’t be able to work in the AI field. Just, if you don’t like programming, make sure you don’t end up in a position where programming is required.”
All three responses show that, yes, some understanding of coding is important in this up and coming field. More important are advanced problem solving and critical thinking skills. Learning to solve problems using computers, even the much simpler version through Hour of Code tutorials, is key (Dirty Hands Mean Smarter Students: How One Computer Nerd-Girl Changed the Education World).
Technology is moving faster than many of us can keep track of it. To keep up with new technologies and the new careers that accompany them, students must be prepared through computer science classes. For students like the one in this Reddit post, new technologies like artificial intelligence is exciting, but coding, not so much.
An Hour of Code is successful (over 100 million students have participated) because it applies coding principles in a fun, applicable way. This first glimpse into the world of coding has the potential to spark the next generation of computer scientists ready to tackle one of the biggest quests of our time–artificial intelligence.
Check out how teachers around the world are engaging students in computer science for Hour of Code week below:
— Amanda Simmes (@MrsSimmes) December 9, 2015
— Dennis Dill (@DennisDill) December 9, 2015
— Yau-Jau Ku (@yaujauku) December 9, 2015
— Valerie Nehrbass (@NehrbassInClass) December 7, 2015
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