Number of Girls and Minority Students Taking AP Computer Science Continues to Grow

Number of Girls and Minority Students Taking AP Computer Science Continues to Grow

Girls and underrepresented minorities made up a larger proportion of US high school students taking the Advanced Placement exam in computer science this year than ever before, Code.org CEO Hadi Partovi announced in a Medium post on Sunday:

In 2018, a total of 135,992 students took the AP Computer Science exam, a rise of 31% from last year. Female students and underrepresented minorities showed the greatest increases from last year:

  • Black or African American students — 7,301 participants, up 44%
  • Hispanic or Latino — 20,954 participants, up 41%
  • Female students — 38,195 participants, up 39%
  • Rural students — 14,184 participants, up 42%

Last year, these figures grew even more rapidly, increasing by 135 percent among girls and 170 percent among underrepresented minorities between 2016 and 2017: a spike Partovi credits to the launch of Code.org’s Computer Science Principles course. According to Code.org a nonprofit organization that focuses on expanding access to computer science, 70 percent of students in CS Principles classrooms say they want to pursue computer science after graduation, so the organization expects these growing numbers of students to translate into more diversity in the tech workforce down the line.

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Apple Partners with Nonprofit to Teach Coding to Blind Learners

Apple Partners with Nonprofit to Teach Coding to Blind Learners

Apple has formed a partnership with the Hadley Institute for the Blind and Visually Impaired to teach people with visual impairments how to code, the Chicago Tribune’s Ally Marotti reported last week:

Hadley plans to start by developing a series of free instructional videos that teach the audience how to use Apple’s Swift Playground app. The app was developed as part of Apple’s Everyone Can Code campaign, which teaches the Cupertino, Calif.-based company’s programming language, Swift. …

“For a person that’s blind, (a device) is just a piece of glass,” said [Douglas Walker, Hadley’s director of assistive technology], who has only peripheral vision. “You have to learn a gesture-based system to move through it.”

Walker swiped right on his iPhone to trigger a feature that read aloud the apps he dragged his finger over — Clock, Maps, NOAA Weather. That’s where Hadley’s videos come in: They teach viewers those gestures, allowing them access to their iPhones or other Apple devices.

The institute has been teaching Braille and other skills to visually impaired people through distance learning since it was founded nearly 100 years ago. Today, Hadley’s free tutorials on how to use the accessibility features on Apple devices are more popular than its Braille offerings. A new series of videos to be released this fall will walk users through navigating the Swift Playground app, which teaches the language through coding games.

In the US, fewer than 44 percent of people with visual impairments are employed, Marotti notes, citing data from Cornell University, while bureau of Labor Statistics data show that only 2 percent of employed Americans with disabilities are working in mathematical or computer-related professions. Teaching coding skills to people who are blind or visually impaired could therefore expand opportunities for good jobs among a severely underserved segment of US adults. This initiative also stands to benefit Apple and other employers of coders by expanding the talent pool.

Last month, Fast Company‘s Lydia Dishman interviewed blind software engineer Michael Forzano, who has been working for Amazon since 2013 after getting hired through one of the company’s campus recruiting programs (he used his laptop instead of a whiteboard to write his code during the interview). Amazon also profiled Forzano in a post on its blog earlier this year, and here is a segment from an accompanying video the company produced in which he demonstrated how he writes code:

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Survey Shows Employers Warming to Coding Bootcamps

Survey Shows Employers Warming to Coding Bootcamps

In the face of a shortage in critical tech talent and the growth of online education, many employers are being challenged to update their recruiting practices and in some cases reduce their reliance on traditional credentials like college degrees. One of the most common forms of alternative education today are coding bootcamps—short, intensive programming courses designed to help students get jobs as programmers—which proponents see as an effective way of growing and diversifying the tech talent pipeline. According to a recent survey of HR managers and technical recruiters from the job-search site Indeed, employers appear to hold bootcamps “in pretty high esteem”:

An impressive 72% of respondents consider bootcamp grads to be just as prepared and just as likely to perform at a high level than computer science grads. Some go further: 12% think they are more prepared and more likely to do better. By contrast, only 17% have doubts. Little wonder, then, that 80% of respondents have actually gone ahead and hired a coding bootcamp graduate for a tech role within their company. Meanwhile, satisfaction levels are high: The overwhelming majority (99.8%) say they would do so again.

Indeed also found that the number of bootcamp graduates applying for jobs at these companies is increasing exponentially: 86 percent of respondents to the survey said the number of applications they were receiving from these candidates had increased in the past few years, and Indeed’s own data show “a doubling of year-over-year growth of job seekers with bootcamp experience” listed on their résumés over the past four years.

Nonetheless, the survey also showed that employers would still prefer a candidate with a bachelor’s degree in computer science over a bootcamp graduate, and would like to see more regulation of the bootcamp industry to ensure quality:

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Not Every Tech Employee Is a Coder

Not Every Tech Employee Is a Coder

In order to fill a shortage of programmers, tech organizations have taken to hiring out of coding bootcamps, which advocates also see as a way to improve the diversity sector’s talent pipeline. Learning to code is widely perceived as the steadiest meal ticket available in today’s job market, with so many employers desperate to overcome the programming skills gap. However, not all tech jobs are coding jobs; with the emergence of software that allows people to build applications without writing code themselves, Fast Company’s Cale Guthrie Weissman explores the opportunities this has opened up for non-coders to do technical work:

Heather Bryant, a young woman who lives in Los Angeles and works at the company Sodexo, does just this. Her official title is a “technical solutions director,” and one of her primary roles is building apps. Bryant, however, has no background whatsoever in coding. In fact, she went to school for sports journalism. Sodexo describes itself as a “contract management services provider.” In laymen terms, that means they set up all the extraneous needs of a business—be they janitorial services, painting, catering, anything infrastructure related, etc. One of Sodexo’s primary functions is creating applications that help project management. These apps help streamline how information is recorded and how it’s presented to people on a team.

Bryant’s job is to help build these applications. Her company uses a program called QuickBase, which is a platform for app building. It automates all the technical parts to make it possible for a layman to build at least a rudimentary business application. Before Bryant took up her role, Sodexo had outsourced app building. Her first role at Sodexo was in data entry, but one day she found herself playing around with an application that just wasn’t working right. After a lot of trial and error on the QuickBase platform, “I was able to rebuild the application how I thought it should be built,” she says.

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Coding Bootcamps Give a Boost to Tech Sector’s Talent Pipeline

Coding Bootcamps Give a Boost to Tech Sector’s Talent Pipeline

Coding “bootcamps”—short, intensive programming courses designed to help students get jobs as programmers—are becoming more of a fixture in how major technology employers source talent, Josh Mitchell reports at the Wall Street Journal:

Employers are increasingly hiring graduates of the Flatiron model—short, intensely focused curricula that are constantly retailored to meet company needs. Success, its backers say, could help fuel a revolution in how the U.S. invests in higher education, pushing more institutions toward teaching distinct aptitudes and away from granting broad degrees. The Obama administration will soon allow an initial batch of students at private academies like Flatiron to spend federal grants and loans, a sharp break from the normal requirement that institutions first win approval from regional accreditors.

Ted Mitchell, the Education Department’s undersecretary, says the pilot program represents a shift toward getting government to focus “in a laserlike way on outcomes,” rather than on simply increasing Americans’ access to college.

On the other hand, these bootcamps don’t offer the same breadth as a college degree in computer science, and aren’t sufficient to meet all of these organizations’ talent needs:

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The Future of Code, the End of Coding

The Future of Code, the End of Coding

That coding skills are the only steady meal ticket left in the modern job market is an assertion so often repeated that it has become something of an article of faith. Indeed, the market for software engineers and other prized STEM talent is currently very friendly to job seekers, with short supply driving up the value of those who have the right skills. Some observers, however, have questioned how much longer this cohort can expect to enjoy comfortable salaries and relative job security, if automation progresses to the point at which even their skills become devalued, programs replacing programmers.

At Wired, Jason Tanz argues that this shift is already happening. “Our machines,” he writes, “are starting to speak a different language now, one that even the best coders can’t fully understand”:

Over the past several years, the biggest tech companies in Silicon Valley have aggressively pursued an approach to computing called machine learning. In traditional programming, an engineer writes explicit, step-by-step instructions for the computer to follow. With machine learning, programmers don’t encode computers with instructions. They train them. If you want to teach a neural network to recognize a cat, for instance, you don’t tell it to look for whiskers, ears, fur, and eyes. You simply show it thousands and thousands of photos of cats, and eventually it works things out. If it keeps misclassifying foxes as cats, you don’t rewrite the code. You just keep coaching it.

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When Inequality Becomes Automated

When Inequality Becomes Automated

At the Harvard Business Review, economist James Bessen explains how automation in the digital age manages to create jobs and exacerbate inequality at the same time:

[C]omputers contribute to declining employment in some occupations but the net effect of computers is not a decline in the total number of jobs. Computer automation creates about as many jobs as are lost through substitution. Thus computers are not causing technological unemployment.

But not all of this is good news. Although computer automation is not causing a net loss of jobs, it does imply a substantial displacement of jobs from some occupations to others. Moreover, the burden of displacement falls disproportionately on workers in low-wage occupations, mainly because low-wage occupations use computers much less than high-wage occupations do. That is, computer automation helps high-wage occupations take over work from low-wage occupations. The net effect implies a substantial dislocation of work to higher-wage occupations:

Job displacement would not be a serious concern if workers could easily acquire the skills needed to practice new occupations. However, the evidence suggests otherwise.

Furthermore, those skills may not even guarantee employability as advertised. In an excerpt at Fast Company from his new book Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus: How Growth Became the Enemy of Prosperity, Douglas Rushkoff predicts that the job security benefits of learning to code will be short-lived:

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