Dear Steve Jobs – everyone does not need to learn to code.

First of all I’d like to say that I’m terribly impressed with Steve Jobs for many reasons and it surprises even me that I’m criticizing him. Also, it is in very poor taste to debate a man who cannot argue back. But as his quote relates to young workers today and to their future – subjects connected to my research – I’m afraid I’m going to have to comment.  

A new wave of Social Media is touting the Steve Jobs quote that “everyone should learn to code.” And, although Steve Jobs was right about so many things…to tell young people that they can secure their future by all learning how to do the same job – is just so very wrong!

Imagine the fierce competition that young people would face if they are all trained for one job…especially if they are not also trained for anything else! If everybody can do a thing, any thing, the value of it is lessened. Computer programmers used to be considered weird, not popular, and certainly not sexy. Everything related to computers is sexy these days because a handful of brilliant people, mostly men, made a number of really brilliant choices that resulted in making them rich. Rich is sexy. Genius is sexy. A man who looks good in a suit is sexy.

But if everyone looks like Steve Jobs and can do what he did, it wouldn’t be sexy anymore. The guy with hardhat who can build a bridge and fix a car will become the king.

The entire world is on the edge of a worker shortage and a skills shortage that will change everything about how we relate to the physical world vs the virtual world. Coding can be done by anyone on any continent. But things that move, that bring food to our mouths, that keep our water clean, that put out fires, that drive across the country, or fly across the oceans…all of those things need people to make them, to operate them, and to repair them. All of those things are physical, essential, right here and now.

The blinding lure of all things that blink in binary code will be diminished if trains don’t run and toilets don’t flush.

And so, Mr. Jobs, I honor your brilliance, I use your inventions, and I wish you a peaceful rest. But every time this quote emerges, I will challenge it with the thought that it’s OK to teach everyone to code, as long as everyone is also taught one necessary, industrial skill. Welders, electricians, diesel mechanics, and plumbers…let’s start here.

Thank You

Evelyn Donahoe (a realistic fan)

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