Recent Computer Weekly articles and posts on LinkedIn, looking at people’s first computer experience, shine a light on how young people used to use computers. They were programmed.
Yes the Commodore 64, Atari ST, BBC B and ZX Spectrum were used for games, but the people who contacted Computer Weekly recall fond memories of learning to program on these devices.
At some point after the home computing boom of the 1980s and 1990s, it seems that many children who had computers at home, no longer felt the urge to find out how they worked and program them.
It took a £35 computer – the Raspberry Pi – in 2012, to capture the imagination of adults and kids, and introduce a generation to the forgotten joy of programming and building useful devices.
Fifteen year old Adarsh Ambati is one of those young people inspired to learn programming on the Raspberry Pi. He says he was amazed to be able to move a sprite graphics character across a screen using the Scratch programming language. Ambati later learned Python, and has developed a wireless vital signs monitor based on the Raspberry Pi, which was showcased in the Raspberry Pi Foundation’s Coolest Projects technology fair for young people. The project has been selected to join the Pear Garage, part of Pear VC, which aims to help student engineers turn their ideas into businesses.
Coding is a key skill in modern society
Modern computer-powered technology plays a crucial role in everyone’s life. It is easy to forget that the intelligent devices and online services that everyone uses, actually run algorithms devised by people who program them. While computing has always strived to abstract complexity to make access to data, information and services available to as many people as possible, such tech innovations should not be taken for granted, especially among children, some of whom may, one day, grow up to develop the next new tech phenomenon.
“Digital literacy for young people is absolutely essential when we consider the increasingly tech-first world that we live in,” says Anne Marie Neatham, commercial director for the Office of the CTO at Ocado Technology.
With the start of National Coding Week, the industry must redouble efforts to demonstrate to young people why programming computers matters.