A year ago, Vend CEO Vaughan Rowsell and I set up a technology education charity called OMGTech! with a vision of inspiring children to explore technology and interact with positive role models from the tech industry.

This week, after months of pilot programmes and hundreds of volunteer hours, we launched our nationwide initiative to enable access for all children in New Zealand to learn to code computers, build and program robots, use CAD to 3D-print objects and unmake electronic devices.

What started as a conversation in which we discovered our common background of being low-decile kids who taught themselves to code at the age of 8 has become a three-year commitment to educate 200,000 children under the age of 11 from 2000 schools.

Tech companies have been vocal about their concerns over the current information and communications technology skills shortage and claim they are not seeing the pipeline being filled well enough or with enough diversity to cope with the growing demands of our tech economy.

Advertisement

Our mission to help solve this issue has been financially supported by several leading companies who share a vision of New Zealand becoming a technology-led country and understand that to get there we need to invest now.

In addition to OMGTech! several other amazing organisations, including The Mind Lab by Unitec and Code Club Aotearoa, also work to build confidence through hands-on lessons teaching kids how to speak the language of computers.

Overseas, some governments have prioritised computer programming by making it a core subject.

In Finland, IT is compulsory in primary schools, Estonia teaches coding from 7 to 19 and Britain recently introduced computing for all pupils up to the age of 16.

Typically, people who ask me about coding have a stereotypical image of a coder being a geek who sits at a computer all day, but many of us who code just use it to help us to be more efficient in our jobs.

Dr Michelle Dickinson, also known as Nanogirl, is an Auckland University nanotechnologist who is passionate about getting Kiwis hooked on science. Photo / Supplied
Dr Michelle Dickinson, also known as Nanogirl, is an Auckland University nanotechnologist who is passionate about getting Kiwis hooked on science. Photo / Supplied

At its core, code is the language that you use to tell computers what you want them to do. A computer with no code is just a static box and everything from websites and phone apps to microwaves and washing machines require code to function.

Coders are the architects of the digital world and they do it by writing specific commands in a specific order to build not only the programs that run the devices we use now, but will also do so for ones we haven't yet predicted.

The common misconception is that coding is difficult, but anyone can learn to code. The website hourofcode.com is a fantastic starting point and has really easy tutorials to get you up and coding within 60 minutes.

Advertisement

Children as young as 5 can write their own computer games using free software called scratch (available at scratch.mit.edu).

The site teaches about the specificity of the order in which code needs to be written through colour-co-ordinated drop-and-drag boxes. I'd love to see coding offered as a second language in schools as the universal language of the digital world.

Teaching coding may not make your child a computer programmer, but it will teach them analytical skills, problem-solving and creativity as well as build their confidence.

Keen on coding? Check this out: hourofcode.com
Dr Michelle Dickinson, also known as Nanogirl, is an Auckland University nanotechnologist who is passionate about getting Kiwis hooked on science.
Tweet her your science questions @medickinson