• Ed Smith

Coding is The New Rap

Updated: Jun 14

I want share with you something that is disturbing, at least for those of you who are African American and looking for a promising career. What I am going to share will make you want to take action, not in a violent manner, more so as an advocate for change.

You see, according to Tech Republic, as of 2014 only 7.4% of African Americans are in the field of technology as compared to 68.5% of whites in this field.

Now, unless you have been living off grid for some time, you know that most of the jobs of today are in the field of technology, yet for the African American community, there is a huge void. So, the question is why? The answer is right there in front of us – more importantly, in front of our children. Our educational system in African American communities continue to teach the very same curriculum that has been in place for the past 100 years. Teachers simply want to give their class the materials that are provided to them without thought of how it will affect a child’s growth.

I understand why our children require basic skills like reading, writing and arithmetic, but why are we stopping there? Isn’t there something more that can be taught to our children than the basics? We have a generation that lives on their smart devices, can play some of the most challenging video games and can recite the rap lyrics of their favorite artists, so am I to believe they don’t want to learn? I submit to you that these children do want to learn and require an environment that fosters a higher education and not just the basics.

I was fortunate enough to attend George Westinghouse high school in Brooklyn that completely changed the trajectory of my life. I wonder today, however, why did I have to get into high school before learning things that could have been taught to me earlier in life?

In my book, Imagine That!, I talk about the efforts made by the country of India to completely re-educate their youth and today, millions of them are been farmed out to firms in the US who require skilled programmers. I was employed with one of these firms, Infosys Technologies and have seen first hand from my visits to Bangalore, Chennai, Mysore and other areas how the Indian youth have been completely indoctrinated into tech teachings.

The key thing about this transformation is how it started – from the highest reaches of government. There was a clear mandate that technology is the future of India and the country is now one of the biggest beneficiaries. To make this point even more startling, consider the revenue that Infosys had when I started there in 2003 which was around 500 million dollars compared to the revenue when I left in 2012 at 3 billion! Thousands of Indian employees, writing code, in call centers, providing business consulting and back end support.

Why not us? What is holding the African Community back from reaping the rewards of this new employment paradigm? I go back to my earlier position where the system is rigged to provide only basic skills and does not truly have the interest of a child’s long-term career goals at heart. Let us not forget that India has only one race which makes it easier to bring everyone into the arena. The multiracial US, however, along with its legacy (?) Jim Crowe rules and the decimation of our race over the centuries has created a stigmatism in our minds as to what we can and cannot do. This must change at the earliest ages of education. Our people must not attend school with the notion of failure. They cannot sit in the back of the classroom writing rap music lyrics and ignore writing computer code. America, let me put this out there – CODING IS THE NEW RAP!

Now, don’t take me wrong. I know there are educators out there who do care for the success of their students, yet if this success is based solely on the student passing a basis skills test, is that successful? Where are the leaders of our African American community pushing to get students more entrenched in technology education? President Obama had an agenda for just such a thing, yet given the challenges he had with the Affordable Care Act, I guess this initiative took a back seat. Well, its time to bring it to the fore.

I am asking our political and educational leadership to re-look at the way our students learn and more importantly what they learn. We need cartoons, comics and other means of adolescent communications that talk about coding as easily as they talk about rapping.

When a student learns how to code-even at the most simplistic levels, they then develop structural, analytical and outcome based knowledge they can leverage no matter the career path they take. Here are my five points to changing the educational system and Thus guarantee the career success of the African American community:

1. Start teaching basic computer coding at the middle school level. I reject the notion that our children are unable to grasp the technical jargon needed to be a programmer. Children grasp onto things they like and things their friends like. Making coding cool this early in life is paramount. Develop a curriculum that resonates with them like rapping. Rap music is structured, lyrical and outcome based, so the parallels are there. And why stop at coding? Teach them robotics, aeronautics, computer design and other skills. Show them how the cell phone they have actually works!

2. Create an inner-city coding contest. Offer rewards, scholarships and intern positions to children who come up with cool coding at the grade school level. There is an organization called that offers the types of community programs that should be the standard. They have “hackathons”, workshops and more. This is a great model to use as a launching point.

3. Positive youth development programs are required that will serve to change the mindset of our youth from that of a failing street mentality to one of being a thinker, a dreamer fostering ideas they can act upon. Funding must be made available to help with counseling.

4. Engage the parents in the conversation. Growing up in Brooklyn, there is one thing that is glaring - kids have been raising kids and there is little guidance on raising them the right way. Helping parents to encourage their kids to take on this challenge must be must be an element. Helping them to overcome their own challenges – be it drug abuse, lack of education, domestic violence… they all must be addressed. We cannot have the parents act in a way that will negatively impact everything the child is trying to do.

5. Don’t wait for all of this to happen on its own. The time is now to prioritize education with the curriculum that will ensure success. The new normal post the COVID 19 virus may be home schooling. Are our children equipped for this? Establishing Ed centers across the neighborhoods where children can go with the sole purpose of higher learning should be established through grants.

My career took off for one simple reason, I was not afraid to learn binary code. There were 20 other people who worked with me that could have taken advantage of this opportunity yet they let it pass them by simply due to the levels of complexity. I don’t want to tick off any of my Caucasian friends, but my mentality was if you can do it, so can I.

This is the mindset we need to have. As humans, we are no different than any other race. We must prop ourselves up to take ownership of our status in life and make the changes required to ensure the next generation can benefit from our efforts.


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