With 75% of children under the age of 8 having access to a smartphone or tablet at home, it would appear that this new generation has their devices as extensions of their limbs. Already many children wield power over their computers with greater dexterity than their parents. And in a tech-dominated world where software and tech services dominate and drive the workplace and nearly every industry, the future demands that children learn not only to be comfortable with technology but also how to manipulate, control, and build it.
Some staggering facts present a somewhat skewed view of our worlds' young people. Certain primary schools are requiring that students bring personal laptops to school, and yet others are teaching children how to code in between recesses. Does this sound crazy? Yeah, for now it does sound a little insane…but soon it won't. Child coders used to be a rare brand of prodigy, but now they seem to be more mainstream than ever before. Check out these examples of young people who were coding and building apps before their skull plates had fused.
Spencer Constanzo, a 19 year old entrepreneur founded Malibu apps when he was in 11th grade as a scheme to avoid going to college. He was inspired by Angry Birds and saw how relatively simple concepts for games and applications could become wildly successful in the online marketplace. He decided to found his own app game design company convince to his parents that he didn't need to go to college. Now he's a top 1% iOS developer and invests in and advises 8 other similar mobile app companies.
Ethan Duggan, a 12 year old learned how to code online in 4 months on Codecademy. His Dad, a software engineer, along with several of his coworkers at Vegas Tech mentored Ethan and helped him learn CSS. So far he's created 2 apps and is working on a 3rd, a "fact-proving" application that allows the user to create fake wikipedia articles to "prove" fictitious information.
Thomas Suarez, a 12 year old who has already founded a company and has 2 published apps under his belt. Last year he was a speaker at the TED conference where he discussed the issue of lack of support and resources for children who want to build apps. He's already founded an app-building club at his school for both students and teachers interested in app-building.
Owen Voorhees, a self-taught 11 year old who learned how to code from college textbooks. He created Math Time, an interactive math flashcard app that rose to #13 in the top paid education apps. His father says that he had no involvement in his son's activities beyond helping him open up an iTunes account.
Is there something in the water? What causes a child to abandon finger-painting in favor of lines of code?
Is it simply heightened intelligence, ability, and motivation that manifest themselves through the children's advanced technological capabilities? In the "old days," children who stood out from their class as especially good at math were regarded as "geniuses." Is technology and app building simply our modern equivalent of a channel through which their intelligence presents itself?
Is it cultural influences or a shifting of norms? The prominent San Francisco bachelor scene is dominated by kids that would, in a previous generation, be regarded as "nerdy." Now these former coders who spent years locked up in their UC Berkeley dorm rooms are the 25 year old CEOs of major tech companies. Basically "nerdy" is the new cool. Thomas Suarez (12 year old wonder kid) has cited Steve Jobs as his inspiration, and other young people are heavily influenced by the media's portrayal of tech "celebrities." 25 years ago, Julian Assange would have been a weirdo behind his computer screen. Now he's a portrayed as a modern-day badass Robin Hood.
Is it parents? More companies than ever before are tech-dominated, so if a child grows up with a parent who is a software engineer, they'll likely be exposed more to the culture and buzzwords of their parent's professional industry. Kids used to play catch with their fathers or bond over a love of baseball…is a common new bonding activity modifying the code of their favorite app?
Personally I think it's just the future. Kids used to do anything for a buck- wash their mom's car, mow the lawn, etc. Now they can churn out an app on the app store, charge .99 cents for each download, and possibly earn 25 - 100 dollars per application.
That's not to say that kids like Ethan Duggan and Spencer Costanzo are becoming the norm. Continuing education, parental support, and availability of resources (online resources like Codecademy for example), low barriers to entry (the relative ease and low cost of publishing an app on the app store) paired with a straightforward path to success once an app has been published will certainly push kids away from the TV and toward programming.