Laura Vanderkam had an interesting post this week about creative destruction and what that might mean for modern careers. As I commented on her post, I have actually found the realization that I have no job security very liberating, since if no job is permanent, there is no reason to allow any job to make me unhappy- but this is only possible because I now have my financial life arranged such that my low job security does not translate directly to no financial security. I am very sympathetic to people who are having to make the jarring transition from expecting a secure and stable to career to accepting a much less certain one, but as I recently discussed, things can sometimes work out quite well, even if you feel like you're on plan B (or C, or D....)
I mentioned in that earlier post that I would not steer my children away from science if they show and interest in it. Laura's post got me thinking again about what education I think my kids need to navigate the career landscape they are likely to face. Obviously, I am just guessing. I have no way of predicting what the world will be like in 20+ years. I will encourage my children to follow their interests, but I will also encourage them to develop some strong foundational skills that will support any career and that they can fall back on if the field that catches their interest turns out to be one without great job prospects. What are those foundational skills? Obviously, we'll emphasize the basics of strong writing skills and strong math skills. I clearly think learning a second language is important, too-we're sending Pumpkin to a Spanish immersion school in September. I am also hoping to interest our kids enough in computers to get them to learn the basics of programming, because I think computers and automated processes in general are only going to get more important, and already a lot of the best jobs require an understanding of how they work, if not actual programming expertise.
The fact that I want my kids to learn to program seems to put me a bit in opposition to Jeff Atwood of Coding Horror, who wrote a post awhile back arguing that no, not everyone needs to program. In fact, I don't really disagree with him. Not everyone needs to be able to produce production quality code. I do think, though, that everyone should be exposed to programming, preferably when relatively young, and especially if they happen to be female. This seems like the best path to overcome the stereotypes and misconceptions about what programming is and who can be a programmer, which might otherwise keep people who would actually love and excel at programming from even trying it.
Also, watching a machine misinterpret the instructions you thought were really quite clear is an excellent way to sharpen your logic skills, and that is a very good thing.
I do not write code these days, and even when I did, I was more of a scripter than a coder. My technical "home" is in database design and management. But I know enough about coding to help me understand what might and might not be possible to achieve, and to have some idea about what is hard and what is easy. Those are excellent skills to have, and are also skills that I think will serve my kids well in almost any profession, given the fact that software is showing up just about everywhere these days and seems unlikely to start retreating. (See, for instance, a recent Derek Lowe post about work to automate the development and refinement of organic chemistry reactions.) In fact, the programming world has moved on so far from what I once knew that I am considering assigning myself a little coding project as a hobby, just to freshen up my knowledge.
Of course, I have no way to guarantee that I can get my kids interested in coding. They are already showing clear interests in learning other languages, which is great. We think that happened because we made it available and we let it stay fun. Also, we got lucky. We're planning to try the same thing with computers, and hope for some more good luck. We'll see how it goes.
(We are also, by the way, planning to introduce our kids to music and/or other arts, with similar hopes for that "taking"- I just don't see as direct a path to marketability in such a wide range of careers from having some music skills as I do for languages and software.)
What skills do you think the next generation should learn to prepare themselves for success? Are there any skills you wish you'd learned as a kid? Are you, like us, trying to "fix" that for your children (if you have them)?