Software is eating the world, but will our kids have the skills for it?

Marc Andreessen (who co-wrote the first web browser, and is now a VC having invested in Facebook, Twitter, and others) published a fantastic essay on how software is revolutionising the world in the Wall Street Journal.

I urge you to read it all, and show it to any young people you know. If you know anyone making education choices now, they need to know about this.

Andreessen’s thoughts echo those that Google Chairman, Eric Schmidt talked about recently at a speech in London, where he talked of the incredible power of computer science to change our lives for the better in the coming decades.

Here are a few of the key snippets from Andreessen’s essay:

More and more major businesses and industries are being run on software and delivered as online services—from movies to agriculture to national defense. Many of the winners are Silicon Valley-style entrepreneurial technology companies that are invading and overturning established industry structures. Over the next 10 years, I expect many more industries to be disrupted by software, with new world-beating Silicon Valley companies doing the disruption in more cases than not.

On why America is leading this charge:

It’s not an accident that many of the biggest recent technology companies—including Google, Amazon, eBay and more—are American companies. Our combination of great research universities, a pro-risk business culture, deep pools of innovation-seeking equity capital and reliable business and contract law is unprecedented and unparalleled in the world.

But he has a warning of what it takes for individuals, and countries to take advantage of this increasingly digital world:

Many people in the U.S. and around the world lack the education and skills required to participate in the great new companies coming out of the software revolution. This is a tragedy since every company I work with is absolutely starved for talent. Qualified software engineers, managers, marketers and salespeople in Silicon Valley can rack up dozens of high-paying, high-upside job offers any time they want, while national unemployment and underemployment is sky high. This problem is even worse than it looks because many workers in existing industries will be stranded on the wrong side of software-based disruption and may never be able to work in their fields again. There’s no way through this problem other than education, and we have a long way to go.

I couldn’t agree with that more, and I hope to see more kids studying maths and science, and more enrolling in Computer Science courses at University; that skill more than any other is what’s going to power the digital innovation we expect to see and it’s a skill that commands a premium. Traditionally parents like to see their children go into a professional occupation such as medicine and law, but Computer Science rightly deserves a place in this list.

[Google’s Eric Schmidt, speaking at the Edinburgh Television Festival criticised Britain’s education system for teaching kids how to use software, but no insight into how it’s made and warned that Britain is squandering its rich heritage in computing].

Computer Science was the course that (amusingly) both Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg dropped out of, but it’s a course that the founders of most leading web companies all have in common, including Google’s Larry Page and Sergey Brin, as well as Amazon’s Jeff Bezos.

If you know a smart and mathematically inclined student, please point out the existence of Computer Science, and my belief that the ability to write computer code will become an even more important skill in the coming decades as computers, software and the internet become even more prevalent. I’m not saying all kids should go and study this course, but I hope they are all at least aware of it and consider it. (I wasn’t and didn’t).

The interesting thing about the ability to program is that it means you are not only eminently employable by massive corporations but you also have a relatively rare skill which enables you to be self-employed doing contracting, or become an entrepreneur and start your own online business. I really don’t think there’s many skills which are quite so much in demand or quite so flexible!

Read Marc Andreesen’s full essay here:

Why Software is Eating the World


One Response to Software is eating the world, but will our kids have the skills for it?

  1. […] that improves your ability to think. The interview was from 1995, and yet he was arguing that software was going to impact every aspect of our lives, and hoping that every child would get taught how to program at […]

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