The Second Digital Generation
Individuals who grew up in the digital era, while very technically savvy, may be outdone by the up and coming "second digital generation," one where kids and teens are becoming not just users of computer technology and apps, but are creating them as active participants to shape the future of the internet and the computer industry. The emerging phenomenon of child and teen programmers is one being embraced by school library associations, public libraries, primary and secondary schools, the supplemental education commercial industry, state legislators, the Obama administration, the UN, and others, for creating a change that is translating directly to workforce development and the acquisition of job skills that are in high demand by employers. Salaries for those with bachelors through doctorates as computer programmers, software developers, and computer and information research scientists pay in the range of $70,000 to $100,000 USD per year. There has been a great focus by libraries to prevent a "digital divide" between those who have access to computers and the internet and those who do not. The next push needs to be on ensuring the digital literacy skills to exploit fully the computer and internet tools to which they now have access, and that includes informed and responsible participation as digital citizens, including social networking and programming. In the 21st century, technology has permeated not only the STEM fields and other various labor sectors, but also the ways in which citizens are interacting with government and public policy. We have seen that citizens are harnessing their social networks and programming skills — for good or for bad — to participate in democratic changes in government and public policy, dialogue and discussion through issues forums, grassroots petitioning for legislative change, and even political protest and
(Click Image to Enlarge).
Meet British-Australian, Nicholas D'Aloisio-Montilla (born 1995), a high school student who lives in London and has been dubbed the “world’s youngest VC-funded entrepreneur.” In March of this year, at age 17, he earned $30 million USD when Yahoo! bought his smart phone news aggregator application. D'Aloisio-Montilla had started programming just four years earlier, at age 12. By 15, he produced his first app which raised $300,000 USD in venture capital (VC), and by 16, his projects had amassed $1 million USD in VC funding. Investors in his company included big names like Ashton Kutcher, Yoko Ono, and Stephen Fry. The funding side might have come a little easier for D'Aloisio-Montilla because he probably had a bit of help from his father, Lou Montilla, who is Vice President at Morgan Stanley in London, but the programming was all his. Today, Nick has been hired by Yahoo! as its youngest employee and is planning to balance high school with his new job. Nick is not alone. He is part of a new digital generation. I will be sharing the stories of a few of these amazing youths and talking about the potential role of the library in helping to develop students’ computer skills. (Sources: Yahoo, Trends, NASDAQ, NYT).
"Power Player: Teenage App Millionaire."
(Video credit: delewareonline, Reuters).
According to a report by Wired, “more and more schools are jumping on the digital bandwagon and adopting iPads for daily use in the classroom...Pilot courses and iPad programs have cropped up all over the country, primarily in private and boarding schools, and select universities. In the public school sector, more than 600 school districts have adopted a 1:1 iPad program." These students, it continues, are showing positive improvement in math grades; “in a partnership with Apple, textbook publishers Houghton Mifflin Harcourt performed a pilot study using an iPad text for Algebra 1 courses, and found that 20% more students (78% compared to 59%) scored 'Proficient' or 'Advanced' in subject comprehension when using tablets rather than paper textbook counterparts.” To help facilitate classroom improvement through interactive textbooks, Apple reported, “McGraw-Hill, Pearson Education, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt — the publishers responsible for the majority of K-12 content in the US — have created Multi-Touch textbooks available now from the iBookstore.” A 2012 study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania Libraries found that “many libraries circulate iPads in ways similar to ereaders, books or other materials – a loan to an individual to use as a device in a personal or individual context.”
Even though Bill Gates and Steve Jobs have a native ability to use computers, both of them were born in 1955, and are ironically not, by definition, considered digital natives. The term “digital native” can refer to anyone born after the 1960s familiar with how to use a variety of technologies like computers, “but in most cases, the term focuses on people who grew up with the technology that became prevalent in the latter part of the 20th century.” I would say I am part of that first digital generation. I grew up as a “digital native” in the era of the desktop “personal computer,” starting out with an Apple IIc when I was about 12 years old. It came pre-loaded with word processing, spreadsheet, and database capabilities, a green backlit monitor, a 5” internal floppy drive (the exact setup as the photo above), and a mouse. In middle school, I learned to write a small program in BASIC and to make a turtle move around the screen using LOGO - but that was about it until graduate school. My first cell phone was capable of just, well, being a phone — and a very large one at that. However, I have noticed a distinct difference in widespread technological aptitude between Generation X (born 1960-1979) - who are the corded era, of which I am a part, and Generation Y (born roughly 1980-1991) - comprised of the mobile and internet generation who carry smart phones with internet capability and iPads - compared to those born in the late 1990s and the early 21stcentury (roughly 1992-Present). Looking back, each group represented approximately 19 years in duration, with a major shift occurring, I argue, after the first two groups, or approximately forty years into a digital culture, particularly if we compare the birth dates of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs with the oldest examples in this article, Nicholas D'Aloisio-Montilla and David Roffman (1955 and 1995/1993, respectively).
Who is the Second Digital Generation? They are the children of the first digital generation (who are comprised of some late baby boomers and Generation Ys, but primarily Generation Xs). These individuals, born near the turn of the century to the present, and are now in their pre-teens or teens, are “Generation Z,” or “The Second Digital Generation.” They are similar to their parents, in that as digital natives they are familiar with using technology. The difference, which I demonstrate here is this generation’s unique ability to exercise their imagination and creativity through
technology by learning how to program and develop computer technologies at a professional level at a very young age. While there were several notable examples of young computer programmers in the first digital generation, this phenomenon is occurring both internationally and in significant numbers with the Second Digital Generation. Essentially, what separates the first from the second digital generation is not only the ability to rapidly adapt to new technology as consumers of pre-packaged goods, but is the widespread practice of an entire generation growing up learning to harness technology create their own interactions with technology, so they are both empowered producers of technology as well as consumers. In a recent interview, President Obama stated, "introducing required computer programming studies in schools '[makes] sense', given the popularity of gaming among children (Timestamp 27:45-30:17). He suggested that the move would also help make more kids job-ready by the time they wrap up their education...Given how pervasive computers and the Internet is now and how integral it is in our economy and how fascinated kids are with it, I want to make sure that they know how to actually produce stuff using computers and not simply consume stuff'" (Source: "President Obama calls for computer programming requirements in schools," VG24/7). However, Thomas Suarez, who I mention again later in this article, while only in the sixth grade, noticed that, “students usually know a little bit more than the teachers with the technology.” In fact, he and students like him are designing apps that teachers can use in the classroom to facilitate the “sharing [of] knowledge.”
School and public libraries are integral to the teaching of media literacy. According to the American Association of School Librarians (AASL), media literacy falls under the traditional category of information literacy that librarians have promoted for decades. “The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) states on their website, “Information and media literacy enables people to interpret and make informed judgments as users of information and media, as well as to become skillful creators and producers of information and media messages in their own right.” AASL's “Standards for the 21st Century Learner” specifically calls for students to be able to “demonstrate mastery of technology tools for accessing information and pursuing inquiry” and to “use the writing process, media and visual literacy, and technology skills to create products that express new understandings” (sections 1.1.8 and 2.1.6). In addition to coding, the ASSL recognizes a specific need for “data literacy”: “Data literacy shares some distinguishing features with media literacy, where the use of tools to use and reuse content in ways not imagined by the content creator are a critical part of this literacy…Students, both as users and as future creators of data, should be trained to understand how their choices affect access, reuse, and preservation; libraries are better placed than any other academic unit to carry out that training.” Public libraries are teaching computer coding skills. In 2012, at the Mountain View Public Library, in Mountain View, California, “Kids entering 5th and 6th grade [got] a hands-on introduction to computer programming at the Mountain View Public Library” where they were taught Python during the summer.
“Kids Computer Programming Class at MV Library.”
(Video Credit: Mountain View Public Library).
“Hakitzu - Official Launch Trailer.”
(Video Credit: KuatoStudios).
Other programming languages designed for this generation include Ruby for Kids, Robomind and Lego’s Mindstorms. Learning about hardware has been made simple through the use of Raspberry Pi, an inexpensive computer for kids developed at the University of Cambridge’s Computer Laboratory. Robert Mullins (Robert.Mullins@cl.cam.ac.uk) is Director of Studies there, and co-founder and trustee of the Raspberry Pi Foundation. There have been more than a million devices sold internationally at an average cost of $25-$35 each. The Computer Lab Raspberry Pi Tutorials web page maintained by Mullins "showcase[s six free] projects and tutorials created by students during the summer vacation" in 2012, when "they were tasked with coming up with things that would be interesting for students of all ages, and would teach fundamental principles of computer science or provide useful resources for other subjects, such as Mathematics and Physics." Ajit Jaokar of Harrow, United Kingdom recently had his project "Computer Science for Your Child" successfully funded on Kickstarter, a crowd funding platform. His company, Feynlabs, is focused on “concepts of programming languages for kids.” He is writing a book to be used in conjunction with Raspberry Pi, to teach kids the fundamental computer science principles underlying a variety of programming languages.
"Computer Science for Your Child."
(Video Credit: Feynlabs).
Hackathons are also ways for corporations and government to identify individuals of any age who possess unique thinking approaches needed for jobs in specialized computer areas like cybersecurity which addresses criminal “hacking.” For example, Alan Paller, Director of Research at the SANS Institute, stated in the Govloop webinar, “Combating the Cybersecurity Threat” (sponsored by Dell and Intel), that “the solution to the manpower problem is actually twofold: one is good training, and the other is getting people whose brains work a particular way… most people in security have brains that are constructive rather than destructive, and the people who can do the hunting and tool building have brains that work counter to that standard way… to go after the vulnerabilities.” These types of people, who are not always the most liked by their teachers, but they emerge during “statewide competitions.” Students in cybersecurity need to possess a combination of training, certification, and skill, Jim Richmann, Study Director of Cybersecurity Research at the Institute of Defense Analysis, emphasized. Most hackathons have nothing to do with criminal hacking, that is “To use one's skill in computer programming to gain illegal or unauthorized access to a file or network,” but are simply making use of the alternate use of the term “hacking,” meaning, “to write or refine computer programs skillfully.” Young Rewired State is a “network of software developers and designers aged 18” and under that offers an Annual Festival of Code Challenge. Some hackathons, like the "1st Kids Hackathon" held April 28, 2013 at the ImmobilienScout24 in Berlin, Germany, focused on analog games and creative activities combined with computer hardware and coding. In 2012, Joe Mathes, the Organizer of Hack the Future at The Tech Museum of Innovation, described the event as “a hackathon with training wheels” and the participants as “a room full of potential Mark Zuckerbergs and Bill Gateses.” In truth, the room was a microcosm of the world full of members of the Second Digital Generation with this same type of potential. Their goal, like the other programs mentioned, is to “inspire the next generation of technologists.”
A computer prodigy, Santiago Gonzalez (born 1999) started college at age 12 studying computer science and electrical engineering at Colorado School of Mines in the US and hopes to complete his Master’s degree in computers by age 17 and eventually a PhD from Stanford. He is currently a 14-year-old programmer, fluent in 12 programming languages, and has written 15 apps for Macs, iPhones, and iPads.
“14-Year-Old Prodigy Programmer Dreams In Code.”
(Video credit: THNKR).
"Lahore resident Muhammad Huzair Awan, 7, has allegedly become the youngest Microsoft certified computer specialist after scoring 780 out 1000 on a recent certification exam that tested program installation, upgrading and migrating to Windows 7, and hardware configuration, as well as several other technical challenges (ET)." There is a Microsoft testing Center located at the US Education Foundation (Lahore) in House 19 Feroz Pur Road, Forman Christian College, Lahore, Pakistan 75600, with Site Code: PK004. "While the [Pakistani] third-grader, who [received] his official certificate in July, wants to become a computer engineer, for now he is focused on upgrading his laptop and playing Angry Birds."
(Video credit: CNBC). Note: Video narration is available only in Urdu.
Thomas Suarez (born 1999), Chief Engineer of CarrotCorp, Inc. and middle school student, gave a TedX Manhattan Beach talk in 2011 about his app “Bustin Jieber.” Suarez's talk "has been viewed over 3 million times, making it one of the most viewed TEDx talks of all time" and "had one of the biggest spikes in viewership in TEDx history." He explained, “A lot of kids these days like to play games, but now they want to make them, and it’s difficult because not many kids know where to go to find out how to make a program. I mean, for soccer you could go to a soccer team, for violin you could get lessons for a violin, but what if you want to make an app?... Not many parents have written apps, [so], where do you go to find out how to make an app?” Suarez said he began learning programming languages that included Python, C, and Java, and then Apple’s iPhone Software Development Kit. He started an app club at his school to help other kids learn how to program and was part of an iPad Pilot Program. Justin's work has earned him a number of accolades, including the 2012 Tribeca Disruptive Innovation Award , a 2013 Tribeca Film Festival Disruptor Foundation Fellow, and the California Latino Legislative Caucus' 2013 Latino Spirit Award Honoree (Dynamic Youth Award).
“iPhone Application Developer... and 6th Grader: Thomas Suarez at TEDxManhattanBeach.”
(Video Credit: TedX Talks).
"Schoolboy is iPhone Whizz."
(Video Credit: Reuters)
Jordan Casey (born 1999) learned to program computers at age 9, after playing multiplayer online games, and started his own computer company, Casey Games,
“12-year-old boy setting the pace in computer programming.”
(Video credit: RTE NewsNow).
"My Little World." (Video credit: Jordan Casey).
In my previous article, “Open Data Tools: Turning Data into ‘Actionable Intelligence,’” I stressed how there is now a trilogy of scientific approaches: deductive, empirical and the recently added, computational. The Second Digital Generation will need to acquire the skills needed in programming to achieve the skills need for this latter approach starting at an early age. Jeannette M. Wing, Professor of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University (email@example.com) “promulgates the idea of ‘Computational Thinking.’”According to Wing’s article “Computational Thinking,” CACM vol. 49, no. 3, March 2006, pp. 33-35:
Many people equate computer science with computer programming. Some parents see only a narrow range of job opportunities for their children who major in computer science. Many people think the fundamental research in computer science is done and that only the engineering remains. Computational thinking is a grand vision to guide computer science educators, researchers, and practitioners as we act to change society’s image of the field. We especially need to reach the pre-college audience, including teachers, parents, and students, sending them two main messages:
- Intellectually challenging and engaging scientific problems remain to be understood and solved. The problem domain and solution domain are limited only by our own curiosity and creativity; and
- One can major in computer science and do anything. One can major in English or mathematics and go on to a multitude of different careers. Ditto computer science. One can major in computer science and go on to a career in medicine, law, business, politics, any type of science or engineering, and even the arts.
“Stephen Howell — Teaching kids to program using Scratch and the Kinect.” -
“Children in schools—secondary and primary—can be taught these complex ideas,”
says Stephen Howell, computer science lecturer at the Institute of Technology
Tallaght, Ireland. In addition to the three Rs, Howells says, so “we need to
introduce the 3 Ds: Design, Develop and Debug” into the K-12 curriculum.
(Video credit: IxDA Dublin).
“What Most Schools Don't Teach - Short Film.”
Starring Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, will.i.am, Chris Bosh,
Jack Dorsey, Tony Hsieh, Drew Houston, Gabe Newell, Ruchi Sanghvi,
Elena Silenok, Vanessa Hurst, and Hadi Partovi.
(Video credit: Code.org).
In a symbolic turn of events, several members of The Second Digital Generation have come full circle by returning to the “birthplace of the World Wide Web,” the Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire (CERN) translated as "the European Council for Nuclear Research," which began between Generation X and Generation Y.
“CERN, the particle-physics laboratory near Geneva, Switzerland, showed a commendable sense of its own historical significance when it commissioned a regularly updated biography in 1979, 25 years after it opened. Divisional records officers at the facility now ensure a smooth pipeline through to the central archives. The archivists encourage senior scientists to have their filing systems appraised for historical interest, and they have a strategy for selecting and preserving e-mails. As the birthplace of the World Wide Web, CERN is also working to archive its own web pages. Scientific archives typically consist of institutional records such as CERN’s and the personal papers of distinguished (and, usually, dead) scientists.” (Source: Nature, 3 January 2013).
Jake Cowton (born 1993) age 19, is working as a technical student at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland in the IT-CIS-DLT (digital library) department. His job is to develop just such a digital preservation project. "Currently at CERN I am using the Python based microframework Flask to add new features to Invenio, an open source, online digital library," he said. "Specifically, I am developing, from ground up, an archive module that will allow stored data to be accessible for an indefinite period of time through the use of persistent identifiers." According to the company's website, Invenio was "originally developed at CERN to run the CERN document server, managing over 1,000,000 bibliographic records in high-energy physics since 2002, covering articles, books, journals, photos, videos, and more...The technology offered by the software covers all aspects of digital library management from document ingestion through classification, indexing, and curation to dissemination. Invenio complies with standards such as the Open Archives Initiative metadata harvesting protocol (OAI-PMH) and uses MARC 21 as its underlying bibliographic format. The flexibility and performance of Invenio make it a comprehensive solution for management of document repositories of moderate to large sizes (several millions of records)." Cowton, who is pursuing a BSc Hons in Computer Science at Northumbria University in Newcastle, England, programs in a number of languages including "Python (with Django and Flask frameworks), Java, Visual Basic and Structured Querying Language." He said, prior to coming to CERN, "I have worked on several projects at Northumbria University including a motion triggered briefcase alarm prototype and an accelerometer based 'Snake' game."
David Roffman (born 1993) age 20, may be the youngest PhD science student who has ever worked at CERN. Currently a doctoral candidate and graduate teaching assistant studying physics at the University of Florida at Gainesville, this summer Roffman was one of three winners of an Institute for High Energy Physics and Astrophysics (IHEPA) fellowship, which was spent using his programming skills in ROOT for data analysis, a program that is related to C++.
David Roffman at CERN, summer 2013.
(Image Credit: David Roffman).
Published with written permission.
Joe Harrison (born 1993) age 20, is a student studying computer networking at the University of Kent in Canterbury, England, who knows Java, C, Python, Ruby, and Haskell. "I’m working with CERN’s Agile Infrastructure project. We’re rolling out our own private cloud using OpenStack and I’m working with baremetal provisioning of machines," he explained. "I’m using Python and C to help integrate the OpenStack services with CERN’s specific needs. A little bit of Ruby and a proprietary language are used when I’m working with Puppet to deploy and manage the services."
Girls are underrepresented in the field of computer science, and whether this gender gap has to do with gender stereotyping, weaker skill sets in mathematics and sciences, misogynistic or discriminatory attitudes functioning as successful deterrents, or a lack of female role models is unclear. However, one thing is certain; it is not due to a lack of interest. According to Girls Who Code, a New York based nonprofit, whose mission is “to educate, inspire, and equip young women with the skills and resources to pursue academic and career opportunities in computing fields,” the gender gap between desire and follow through and performance is apparent: “In middle school, 74% of girls express interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM), but when choosing a college major, just 0.3% of high school girls select computer science.” Meetings like the Girls in ICT Day 2013, help by introducing young people to programming and providing career guidance and encouragement about how programming skills can result in them landing jobs in the computer industry. The Technovation Challenge, is a competition exclusively for “middle and high school girls [to] work in teams to develop innovative mobile apps that solve problems in their local communities.”
When it comes to public policy and Generation Z, America spends nearly “$3 billion annually on STEM education.” Yet, few studies exist that reveal the efficacy of these programs, either by agency or overall, for the purpose of evidence-based policy. Murkier still are the percentages of funding and evidence-based results for the "T" (Technology) in STEM education spending. In the US, the result has been a debate surrounding which agencies are best suited to deliver STEM programs and to receive that earmarked STEM funding. Recently the White House FY2014 budget request (p. 79) decided to all but eliminate STEM government funding to agencies other than "the National Science Foundation (NSF) for activities aimed at undergraduate and graduate students, the Department of Education for K-12 students, and the Smithsonian Institution for informal and in-situ education... [For example], many of NASA's STEM and Education and Public Outreach (EPO) activities would be reassigned to one of those agencies" (Source: SpacePolicyOnline). Despite a lack of formal studies, examples like the young computer scientists mentioned in this article appear to be indirect proof that access to computers in public libraries and schools, integration of computers into the K-12 curriculum, and the promulgation of media-based technologies into the daily lives of young people are, in fact, getting results. Some states are investing heavily in STEM education now to prepare the workforce of the future. But those dollars might not be going for computer programming. "This summer, a task force is debating how fluent Utah students should be in computer science to graduate...Utah lawmakers’ $10 million push for science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM education, doesn’t immediately include any computer science initiatives, said Jeffrey Nelson, chairman of the Utah STEM center and CEO of Nelson Labs. But a background in basic coding and robotics is a 'big need' in today’s medical jobs, he said. 'We’re hungry for people with these skills.'"
In this article, I have listed many of the common programming languages and tools used by young app developers and software entrepreneurs to get students on the road to programming as early as six to eight years old. Computer literacy for the Second Digital Generation will require programming skills, so starting early by teaching the fundamentals of computational thinking and basic programming in at least one programming language is recommended. The need for computer programming skills extends beyond computer science; they are needed for many career paths, including those in science and medicine, as well as actively engaging as citizens. Not having the ability to write computer programs when growing up might hinder the ability of an individual raised in the second digital generation by impeding their trajectory for gainful employment in STEM fields — to become a future astronaut, scientist, doctor, engineer, or other academic researcher — or even to fully participate as a citizen in government.