Educating the Software Engineers of the Future

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We all look toward the future, whether it is regarding our own lives or the lives of the world’s youth. However, the question most often asked is how to prepare for it. There is no doubt technology is, and will continue to be, a large part of all of our lives, especially in terms of the rise of artificial intelligence (AI). So how do we prepare for it and set today’s youth up for success?

Our VP of Engineering and Digital Transformation, Jonathan Fries, has taken the initiative here. He recently spoke to his nephew’s eighth-grade programming class at Westside Middle School in Omaha, Nebraska—the same school Jonathan once attended. Educator Kristeen Shabram coordinated the video conference between her students and Jonathan. I had the chance to interview Jonathan about this event revolving around software development education and how technology will play into our future.

“I’m hopeful for my own kids, and if education does a good job, they’ll be ready for whatever comes their way.”

Jonathan spoke highly of Westside Middle School for having a programming class for eighth graders and how progressive our society has become in technology education. He believes it is important to have exposure to technology at a young age, especially in a classroom setting. Educating children on the basics of programming sets them up for a future where technology is an integral part of their lives and where even a basic understanding of software development will have becomes the norm.

“Math is a very valuable fundamental skill, and so is writing and creativity.”

When asked about his time spent with the students, Jonathan said they were very inquisitive about what skills to build and how to move toward a career in programming. He also stressed the importance for children to have a balanced education in programming basics along with a broad background in other subjects. AI is supposed to do increasingly more for us, so we need to also be creative. Jonathan explained how educators need to be careful about extensively teaching a single technology, as the longevity of any computer language is unpredictable. New technologies and languages are changing and being introduced every year, so it is important to learn the fundamentals of education, such as math, writing, and, most importantly, creativity. Educators must go beyond the basics of teaching programming languages—they must be creative to stay relevant in the world of AI, as rapid shifts can occur by the time students enter the workforce.

“Write and speak well, and know about the world.”

Having himself pursued an English degree, Jonathan also stressed the importance of learning how to communicate and work with people from many different backgrounds. Global companies are on the rise and with easy access to technology anywhere, clients and teams can be reached from all over the world on a wide variety of devices at any time. Video conferencing and telecommunication tools are an integral part of the industry.

“You can get far by doing.”

To conclude our interview, I asked Jonathan how someone can overcome the intimidation factor of starting a career in technology. He spoke of many online, free, resources that are easy to get into and can guide you through lessons, just as an in-class program would. There are a lot of resources outside the classroom as well, which is one of the best ways to overcome the fear and intimidation of entering the software engineering workforce. The broad cultural appeal of video games also provides an opportunity for children to gain an interest in programming. Companies like Microsoft, with Code Builder for Minecraft, and Lego, with the Boost visual programming app, show the relationship between programming and games, which are widely enjoyed by both genders. Additional outreach and classes that reach people from different socio-economic standpoints can introduce more people to the industry. Jonathan mentioned there are a lot of opportunities for people today and more people are greatly needed in the software development industry.

“Technology is good for society, overall it’s good. All boats will rise.”

It is clear that there are still many more advancements to be made in technology, and we must have the workforce to support the continued growth. As we look to the future, it is important to keep a strong focus on technology in education programs, especially in grade schools. Jonathan plans to stay active in connecting with youth to encourage their continued learning and passion for software engineering.

If you’re interested in pursuing a career in programming, check out these links Jonathan recommended:

  1. MIT Open Courseware: Free online courses
  2. edX: Free Online courses
  3. Udacity: Free Online Courses with paid ‘nanodegrees’
  4. Udemy: Online education marketplace
  5. Free Code Camp: Learn to be a web developer for free