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Wasserman: Free coding classes at county libraries are a great idea

Elected officials may have a hard time admitting to not knowing something, but I have a confession: Several years ago, my adult son had to explain to me exactly what was meant by the term coding.

“It’s the language of computers,” he said. Seeing the look on my face, he put it another way: “Coding is how people create websites, apps, software; anything web-based.”

Okay, that made more sense. And what has become very clear is that the skill of coding is an important one. As we embark on the “internet of things,”– everything from cars to coffee pots being networked with the ability to send and receive data – it is vitally important for our current and future local workforce to have the fundamental skills needed in this new era.

An educated workforce serves everyone’s interests: better paying jobs when kids finish school, and more local hiring.

Coding is foundational. Every kid born in the 21st Century can learn how the internet works and how to create an app. The earlier that a girl or boy can learn to code, the more ingrained and helpful these skills will be. We wouldn’t expect future doctors to take their first biology classes in college; why should future tech workers wait to learn these fundamental skills?

As chair of the Santa Clara County Library District, I wanted to make coding more accessible to kids, especially to under-served youth. I am excited to announce that the system is launching a robust offering of coding classes and events including Hour of Code, CodeF1rst, Girls Who Code, Introduction to Arduinos, Teen Hackathon/CU Hacks, Middle School Intro to Programming using Javascript, Miss CEO, Steam Robotics Classes, Java Coding Class, CoderDojo Coding Club and more. Visit the Library District website for details.(

Here in Silicon Valley, coding classes for youth are proliferating. This is a good thing. But what makes our program special is that we are making free coding classes accessible in all seven County District libraries. These new programs bring the classes as close to home as possible, since it can be intimidating as well as cost and time prohibitive for some families to send their kids to private coding classes.

The Santa Clara County Library District provides services for all 1.9 million Santa Clara County residents free of charge. Many kids use their local library regularly, so attending a class there is a safe learning environment for them.

It is exciting and encouraging to think that a 10-year-old student could start learning to code and invest in skills now that may lead to a high-paying (and local) tech job 10 years from now.

Silicon Valley tech firms are well-acquainted with the skills gap that forces them to seek non-local workers. Imagine how different it will be for companies to have a skilled, local workforce to hire from.

According to the founders of Hour of Code, computing jobs are the #1 source of new wages in the United States. And while there are currently 523,222 open computing jobs nationwide, only 42,969 computer science students graduated into the workforce last year. It’s time to change that. And free library coding classes for kids are a good start.

Mike Wasserman is the District 1 Santa Clara County Supervisor and Chair of the Santa Clara County Library District Joint Powers Authority. He wrote this for The Mercury News.


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