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Coding Kids

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High-school AP enrollment, 2012. Source: Code.org.   

The economic-utility argument isn’t one that upper-middle-class parents tend to linger on, but it’s a major industry concern. Despite the moribund national jobs market, software positions go begging. By 2020, the industry expects to have a million more positions than it can fill. Nine out of ten U.S. high schools don’t offer computer programming, and fewer than one college student in 40 graduates with a degree in the field. “We have a clear disparity between the needs of industry and the number of computer-science graduates we produce,” said Maria M. Klawe, president of Harvey Mudd College, in testimony before a Senate committee earlier this month. “We simply do not have enough students graduating high school with an interest in pursuing computer science.”

The bugles are blowing, and New York City is at the vanguard. One of Wenger’s partners at Union Square Ventures, Fred Wilson, has raised funds for New York City’s first programming-oriented public high school, the Academy for Software Engineering, which opened its doors a year ago. This fall, more than 1,400 students applied for the 108 ninth-grade spots, and a sister school opened up in the Bronx. As a follow-up, Wilson is launching a new $5 million fund that aims to bring computer-science education to all the city’s public-school kids within ten years.

Like much tech-world philanthropy, the tech schools are arriving as a fiat from on high, rather than welling up from grassroots demand, and it’s easy to read the education evangelism as motivated, at least in part, by a desire to mainstream techies’ own idiosyncratic way of looking at the world. Wenger thinks that the shift has already begun, courtesy of The Social Network and the growing roster of twentysomething software billionaires. “The biggest transformation I’ve seen,” he says, “is that coding has gone from something that weird kids do to something the cool kids do.” There’s nothing dorky about huge piles of cash.

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