Were Grace Hopper still alive, she’d turn 107 years young on Monday, December 9th. Grace Hopper, as I’m sure you know, served in the United States Navy with great distinction. She first enlisted in the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES) program in 1943, in the midst of the Second World War, and served in various roles in the Navy until 1986, when she retired as the oldest active-duty commissioned officer at nearly 80 years of age. At the time of her retirement, she was awarded the Defense Distinguished Service Medal –the highest non-combat award bestowed by the Defense Department. Hopper was also arguably one of the brightest minds of her generation, and undoubtedly one of the sharpest computer programmers this country has ever known. She is credited with popularizing the term “debugging,” helped design an entirely new computer programming language, and oh by the way, has a U.S. Navy destroyer named after her.
Not coincidentally, Monday, December 9th also marks the kickoff of Computer Science Education Week.
Computer Science Education Week was launched by a diverse and influential coalition of businesses, educators, and non-profits with the simple goal of promoting computer science education. Notable supporters include ITI-members Oracle, Microsoft, Apple, Google, and Akamai, as well as other prominent organizations like the Computer Science Teachers Association, Alice, and Project Lead the Way, to name only a few.
The work being carried out by this group is quite timely. Consider, for a moment, that in 2013 – when our favorite apps and the mobile devices that power them aren’t just fun devices anymore, but rather extensions of our own being – just six in 10 high schools in the U.S. offer a basic computer programming course, and only about a quarter of the nation’s high schools offer advanced placement (AP) computer science classes. What’s more, it’s expected that the economy will need an additional 1.5 million computer programmers by 2018. That’s quite a gap to fill.
And this is where Washington can and should help. The great work being done by the Computer Science Education Week partners is no doubt gaining traction, but the country won’t realize the true transformative power of computer programming until Congress weighs in and formulates a wholesale approach to tackle the issue. In this space previously, I wrote about a bill that would modify existing legislation to make computer science a “core” subject with the likes of math, English, and history. Core subjects are eligible for federal funds, thereby offsetting curriculum expenses. The legislation passed unanimously in the House of Representatives, but unfortunately has yet to see the light of day in the Senate.
So as we draw near to next week’s activities, we should keep several things in mind. First, as Congress dithers, tech industry leaders like Oracle, Microsoft, Apple, Google, and Akamai have shown tremendous initiative in preparing today’s students for tomorrow’s challenges. We should also celebrate Grace Hopper’s sterling accomplishments – she remains an inspiration for her years of dedication to her craft and her country. But most importantly, we should remember that Computer Science Education Week is really about enabling kids to not just know Grace Hopper’s name, but emulate her work.
My fingers are crossed that this time next year we’ll be able to celebrate Congress and its efforts to expand the computer science education footprint.
Happy birthday, Grace.