Earlier this year, a report on Digital Skills by a House of Lords Select Committee made several recommendations on what steps the current government needs to take to address this issue, but what can we do within the digital sector, and what are our responsibilities?
The answer is simple, really. We need to inspire.
I began my journey into programming aged nine, by copying lines and lines of code from a magazine into my ZX Spectrum in the hope that, at the end, I’d have a game I’d made. My grandfather was an engineer who, once retired, learnt to code, and wrote computer games for his grandchildren on Amstrad PCWs and early PCs. This was my inspiration; free games and a role model. I could see that computer games weren’t conjured using witchcraft, but created by normal people using normal computers – computers I had access to.
Volunteering time to teach children to code is a great starting place. Code Club is a network of volunteer-led after-school coding clubs for children aged nine to eleven. It teaches them how to program by making computer games, animations and websites.
As of September 2014, coding is also on the standard curriculum. ‘ICT’ has been replaced by ‘Computing’, which has a strong focus on coding. As digital professionals, we should be making ourselves available to schools and teachers, and offering support to ensure they have the skills and knowledge to teach this subject with confidence.
Last week, I went to the Silicon Beach Fest Conference in Los Angeles, which gave me an insight into how a larger digital eco-system is beginning to tackle these same issues. While there, I saw an engaging panel about women in tech. One issue highlighted was the shortage of women working in tech in America. We have the same issue here in the UK, where only 13% of people working in STEM are female.
In America, Girls Who Code is a programme that ‘works to educate, inspire, and equip high school girls with the skills and resources to pursue opportunities in computing fields’. Something the programme does particularly successfully is provide girls with role models. In a male dominated industry, these female role models are vital.
We have a big challenge on our hands, but collectively, we can make a difference. Whether a junior developer or CEO of a tech giant, we all have a responsibility to engage with and inspire the next generation of potential digital talent.