One Good Reason to Learn Code

Summyl App

Yahoo! scored big with the mobile start-up, Summly, freshly acquired from a U.K. programming wunderkind. The announcement ignited immediate buzz between tech and social networking circles around the globe, and for good reason. At 17, Nick D’Aloisio now faces balancing his last year of high school studies with a new dream job worth millions.

D’Aloisio, who joins Yahoo! as its youngest employee, developed Summly at 15 and sold the news-reading app for reportedly $30 million or thereabouts. Terms of the deal, four months after it was initially launched for iPhone, have not been formally disclosed.

"It helps publishers reach out to a younger audience," he explains in the Guardian on Friday. "There is a generation of skimmers. It's not that they don't want to read in-depth content, but they want to evaluate what the content is before they commit time. Especially on a mobile phone – you don't have the phone, or cellular data, or screen size to be reading full-length content."

The London teen taught himself how to code at 12, earning admiration and financial backing from investors such as Yoko Ono, Ashton Kuthcher and Hong Kong billionaire, Li Ka-shing, who owns a venture capital firm. "If you have a good idea, or you think there's a gap in the market, just go out and launch it because there are investors across the world right now looking for companies to invest in," D’Aloisio told Reuters in a March 25 phone interview.

Code.org is urging schools to take the initiative and offer more computer courses in a viral campaign with trendsetters from Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and will.i.am of The Black Eyed Peas to the Miami Heat’s Chris Bosh and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg. Virgin founder and billionaire Sir Richard Branson also is calling for curriculum changes in the U.K., and encourages teaching more business basics to the next generation. " … Some of the things people study at school are not particularly relevant for when they actually leave school," Branson told school reporters from Lincoln Castle Academy for BBC News.

Even, Inc. magazine's 2013 list of America's Coolest College Start-ups recognizes the 12 “most promising dorm-room incubated ventures, and the tech-savvy, app-happy, socially-conscious undergrads who back them.”

Self-taught software developer John Balestrieri says the most rewarding experience of his adult life was learning to program computers because “it taught me logic and creativity skills that I did not learn from the standard math, science, art, and literacy courses I took in school.” His Brooklyn-based company, Tinrocket, LLC, designs and develops photo apps for iOS, including the popular Percolator and Popsicolor.

“At its heart, computer programming is not about a particular language or any specific operating system that's used, or whether you can build a web page versus a mobile application. This type of knowledge is ephemeral and worthless,” Balestrieri says. “The ultimate goal of learning programming skills is not to learn how to be a computer technician—you could, if you wanted to—but to learn a set of skills that are the abstract underpinning of many professional fields, and to learn them in a way that feels less like study and hard work, but instead feels more like play.”

Queens, N.Y., resident Gloria Ayala, a head teacher at a local preschool, adds that children learn through manipulating objects in their world and computers allow interaction. “When technology is balanced with a healthy combination of outdoor play, hands-on activity and other kinds of interactive experience, it is beneficial in preschool,” she says.

Along those lines, Balestrieri contends: “If playing with LEGO bricks is about solving problems in a tactile way, then computer programming is nearly the same thing. … The most important thing about programming is that it teaches skills for mental exploration and problem solving in an interactive and engaging way.”

Continuing, “With a little bit of knowledge you can build something that reacts to your input—a game, a website, etc., and as you work at it you enter a positive cycle of feedback that can be as addictive as playing with certain 'creativity toys,' such as LEGO bricks.”

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