The Power of a Single Hour

We live in an age defined by smaller and smaller fragments of time — the time it takes to consume 140 characters on Twitter or 10 seconds of Snapchat, or to catch the latest Saturday Night Live skit on YouTube.

As thinking in seconds or minutes becomes second nature, an entire hour can seem like an eternity. But last week, a single hour was all it took to make significant progress toward closing the skills gap in computer science.

Last week was Computer Science Education Week, when non-profit Code.org brought its Hour of Code program to thousands of classrooms around the world. In lively and engaging hour-long tutorials, delivered by people who do this work in the real world, Hour of Code teaches students the basics of computing while having some fun along the way.

Hour of Code is designed to produce that spark that will ignite a student’s curiosity, determination and passion to continue learning. Code.org’s tutorials engage younger students with stories, characters and games they know and understand — from Minecraft to Star Wars to Disney’s Moana — to teach the basics. Older and more experienced students are introduced to the fundamentals of game building and simple encryption.

Why was this hour so important?

Quite simply, computing skills are in short supply at a time when demand has never been greater. For example, last year, there were 500,000 open computing jobs in the U.S., but only 40,000 qualified graduates to fill them. This issue is compounded by a decades-long problem — extremely low representation of women and minorities in computing.

Businesses like Accenture will continue to be challenged unless we find ways to close the skills gap, which will only widen as technology — from cloud and analytics to artificial intelligence and robotics — continues to disrupt virtually every industry.

As a society, coding and computer science also are great equalizers. These skills have the power to fundamentally change some of the dynamics we’re wrestling with right now. It may sound bold but it’s true: technology is our way to fast track equal opportunity across race, gender and socio-economic groups — because it doesn’t matter where a coder comes from or their native tongue, gender, economic status or race. Code is the great leveler.

Hard to believe, but only two years ago three-quarters of U.S. high schools offered no meaningful computer science course. While these numbers have improved slightly, they persist despite research showing that exposing young people to computing during high school years is key to sustaining their interest through college and into the workplace.

For example, recent research found that nearly all computer science majors (98%) said they were exposed to computer science before college, and African-American and Latino students who take computer coursework in high school are seven times more likely to major in this field in college. Similarly, girls who take computer science in high school are ten times more likely to major in computer science in college.

Accenture has worked with Code.org for the past two years and I am enormously proud that more than 10, 000 Accenture people participated in Hour of Code activities last week across more than 200 cities in 56 countries — including teaching coding at local schools — to help move the needle on closing the gap in computing.

In today’s world, an hour can seem like a lot of time. But the power of a single hour this week can affect the future of many young people. For businesses, this is a future that can’t come too soon.