This Cambrian explosion of new coding techniques offers the promise of dramatically diversifying a coder monoculture of math-driven white men to include women, minorities, and those without advanced degrees in math. These are people who have long been underrepresented in science, math, and technology fields. From a humanist perspective, society benefits when diverse people can be creators of software instead of just consumer. It’s unacceptable that software creation remains so out of reach for so many.  

At Ready, for example, we’ve been told by teachers that our platform is inspiring precisely because it favors a new, visual form of writing code. This version borrows heavily from the successful “remix cultures” powering YouTube, the music industry, online journalism, and photography. Some have even called Ready “a Powerpoint for making software.” Perhaps more importantly, Ready gives teachers, including those who may not have a background in coding, an effective way to teach students how software is made. Because where, exactly, are we supposed to find tens of thousands of coders willing to potentially take major pay cuts to join the education system? 

Instead of attempting to lure code-literate teachers away from Silicon Valley, we need to revolutionize the way coding is done. Rather than fit the person to the tool, let’s fit the tool to the person. Pop computing can help us get there, offering a gloriously diverse array of tools to match our gloriously diverse species. It’s only a matter of time before the process of making software itself is transformed, from one that requires a mastery of syntax—the precise stringing of sentences needed to command a computer—to the mastery of logic. Logic is the essence of software creation, and the second step after mastering syntax. 

We know this revolution is possible because it has happened before. For much of its history, photography was an elite pursuit.  Twenty years ago, aspiring photographers had to learn to work in a darkroom, something that was expensive and time consuming—not to mention all the hours spent in close proximity to toxic chemicals, stuffy rooms, red lights, and claustrophobia. Plus there was the significant personal expense of film and photo paper, which, in the spirit of trial-and-error learning, could quickly become unaffordable. Understandably, many opted out. But today, photographers can use iPhone cameras and Instagram to learn photography skills from their bedrooms. The end result is that many more humans around the world are able to take, edit, and publish photographs. This is the democratizing force of technology at its best, creating tools that widen opportunities for people to become creative.

Resistance to rethinking coding takes us into very familiar territory. It’s a trope that comes up again and again from incumbent interests whenever a creative industry is disrupted by technical innovation: bloggers are not journalists, YouTubers are not film-makers, DJs are not musicians. Yet the public knows otherwise—blogs disrupted the practice of journalism, YouTube led a streaming revolution that’s transforming television and film, and DJs are some of the most marketable music acts today.  It’s time for software creation to undergo the same democratizing process. And it begins with how we expose young minds to coding. In this new and exciting world, teaching coding the way we have isn’t going to work. It’s the wrong approach for most of us.

In other words, if “pop computing” means popularizing computing—as in the act of popularizing software creation for all—then count me in!

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