Not every student has access to home internet services. This has serious impacts long term on the developer talent pipeline. How can you help?
It’s no surprise that many are calling for students to return to school ASAP. The longer classrooms are empty, the more material teachers will need to reteach when kids do head back. This leads to an entire generation behind by the better part of an academic year. I’m (thankfully) not homeschooling like some of my colleagues. I can appreciate, however, the desire to get your (lovely, I’m sure) children out of the house for at least a few hours of the day. You could use the time to finish work or just sit in some much-needed silence. No judgment. I’m also not an epidemiologist, so I won’t speak to any possible re-opening timelines. I’ll leave the ‘when’ up to local leaders and health departments. Depending on your respective geographic areas they will undoubtedly differ widely. They’re the most qualified to weigh the cost/benefit analysis involved. What I will speculate on, however, is what this much missed-school will mean for the developer community talent pipeline. Little Josie may be learning to write her name today, but it won’t be long before she’s writing code that keeps the world turning. Developers must take immediate action now to prioritize STEM education in their communities, promote broadband access, and ensure work learning opportunities (yes, internships!) for students, especially in light of COVID. It’s not just about ‘for the kids,’ but rather self-preservation for developers. Your companies are going to need an abundance of home-grown talent, especially with an exponentially growing tech economy and the government’s efforts to prohibit imports.
So you think you’re bored in lockdown? It’s estimated that up to 42 million Americans are without home internet access. Aside from the recreational benefits of a connection, lack of home internet also means that millions of children in the US are unable to access the internet for educational purposes. Reports indicate that 1 in 5 children nationally has issues completing homework due to this. Before the novel coronavirus, these students would spend late nights at school, the library, or cafes with the internet. All to get their work homework done. During the stay at home orders however, they’ve lost this access. They’re falling further behind than their same-grade peers whose school districts have remote work capabilities for all students.
Even with phased reopening plans in various localities, fully operational sit-in wifi establishments will likely be limited for some time. Infection fears may be a legitimate excuse for not completing your homework. In areas where many students may be without home internet, school-loaned hotspots were used to fill the gap. An abundance of these devices however won’t solve the problem for a period as prolonged as the COVID-19-related stay at home orders may be. To make matters worse, many of the Smart Cities projects that were looking to solve these connectivity issues are being squashed. The donations and business sponsorships of these programs have fallen by the wayside due to companies tightening their belts in the virus-induced economic depression. The obvious academic setback is the core subjects these students are missing out on — the grade level math, science, and reading that will generally lead to higher education programs. Various computer technologies, while seen by too many as comparatively less essential, are one of — if not the fastest — growing sectors of the global economy. The machine learning space specifically is growing at a rapid pace and technology-based jobs are without a doubt the jobs of America’s economic future. We need our workforce to be prepared for these jobs and protect their growth potential. (I also should mention that this doesn’t even go into the need for increased remote work capabilities for the inevitable next global pandemic, whenever that may be. One infuriating health crisis at a time, please.)
What goes without saying here — and the bigger problem I’m pointing to — is how students are supposed to improve their computer skills during a stay at home order (and the aftermath that follows) without computer and internet access at home? And COVID aside, how are we supposed to hire and retain a vibrant developer talent pool long term when 1 out of every 5 kids is unable to access a home computer? By 2018 statistics, 20% of the current would-be developer pool does not have the resources to build baseline skills for a career in this space. With the stay at home orders creating even more of a technology-less learning gap, this number has likely compounded. Even if the world magically goes back to life as it was pre-COVID, are we as a developer community okay with losing up to a third of our potential talent pool just because they did not have reliable internet?
Many students are reconsidering their collegiate aspirations due to fears of the virus, for both the near and long term. This could be a windfall for programs such as coding academies to lure in students that didn’t otherwise consider a developer career path. Many now see dropping out as reasonable, perhaps even a responsible choice. As a community, we would be remiss to let-slide the opportunity to scoop up a wide range of talent.
It is also no secret that a diverse pool of developers leads to better AI. Simply put, more students with baseline computing skills means more developers – and advanced developers — in the future. More advanced developers mean better talent and thus better employee pickings for your company to choose from. This means better end products in the machine learning space and otherwise. We should be encouraging as many diverse groups as possible to take up this profession. Economic projections show that the K-12 group is actually more educationally disadvantaged during the COVID-era than their older learning peers, as they will feel the impact of a career-long earnings decline due to the educational setback striking them earlier in their learning years. It’s important to act now and not exclude our youngest learners, especially when they are from communities without proper internet access.
If there are fewer students with a baseline knowledge in computer skills, then there are fewer students likely to be seeking careers in these fields as they will be much farther behind their pe
ers from the start. Not having an entire generation of students prepared for the fastest growing workforce sector leads to millions of dollars lost for the industry. It’s no wonder that so many diversity-focused organizations in the tech space are banding together to fight for students to keep their internships. These kids have worked hard and know there are good jobs to be created, even despite the crisis.
The Federal Communications Commission is doing their best to Keep Americans Connected. Stay at home orders however have highlighted this glaring connection issue, a question the agency has grappled with for years. How do we help students stay connected when they never WERE connected? The COVID-19 crisis has placed a spotlight on American’s home broadband struggles more than any other event in history. The direct long-term impacts this will have on the developer community is impossible to ignore. Right now students are losing precious time to continue their education. We in the technology community are losing future talent, and innovation, at a rapid pace.