Editor’s note: Bijan Sabet is a general partner at Spark Capital. Prior to joining Spark, Bijan held senior business development and product management roles at various startups.
It’s Computer Science Education Week and for thousands of students around the country, that means nothing.
Nothing despite that, according to Code.org, computer science is a top-paying college degree and computer programming jobs are growing at two times the national average. Nothing even though the US Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts one in every two STEM jobs will be in the computing field with more than 150,000 job openings annually. Nothing in spite of the fact that computing is one of the fastest-growing occupations in the country and also pays 75 percent more than the national median annual salary.
Why? Access. Or rather, lack thereof.
The numbers are also damning for the future of diversity in tech, an issue that we all know is very real and very alarming. Despite the incredible growth of technology, computer science is more male-dominated today than it was 20 years ago. The number of women who earned undergraduate computer science degrees in 2013 dropped 51 percent from a high of 37 percent in 1991.
And according to the National Center for Women & Informational Technology Scorecard, only 26 percent of computing occupations are held by women, with only 3 percent by African-American women, 5 percent by Asian women and 2 percent by Hispanic/Latina women. And in 2012, fewer than 3,000 African-American and Hispanic students took the high school AP Computer Science exam.
All students should have meaningful access to curriculum and courses that teach computing literacy. It is necessary in the 21st century, no matter what career you pursue. Is every child going to become a programmer? No. But all students should have a basic understanding of how to build the game they are playing for endless hours on their phones or tablets, not just beat their own highest score.
So what can you do about it? Thankfully, as a member of the tech community, you can do something. Policy needs to change to bring computer science and computer programming into the daily curriculum and Code.org is leading the charge to make this happen across the nation. And while this effort works its way through the political bureaucracy, take action, lend your voice and do what we do best: innovate.
Consider starting a CoderDojo, volunteering with Girls Who Code or do an Hour of Code anytime, anywhere. And if you don’t have one already in your state, do what we did in Massachusetts through the MassTLC Ed Foundation and build a central resource where volunteers, parents, educators and students have access to aggregated lists of camps, after-school programs, online learning tools and volunteer opportunities. We also set up a network of CS professional development opportunities for K-12 teachers with MassCAN.
Your time, leadership and financial support are needed to ensure all children will receive access to the skills they need for success.