Mike Cannon-Brookes taught me to code the same way he teaches his 7-year-old son -- here's what I learned

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Atlassian put on a coding class at the CeBIT tech fair in Sydney today.

Co-founder and Co-CEO Mike Cannon-Brookes led the class as part of the Australian-based tech giant’s mission to educate people on the Future of Work, and hopefully “prepare the kids and the country for it”.

“We think a lot about what the Future of Work looks like next week, next month, next decade,” he said. “And we do not have a crystal ball… but we can tell you that the world is definitely changing and it’s becoming more and more technology driven on a constant, increasing basis.

“Tech is now the biggest industry in the world… and every other industry is increasingly being driven by technology.”

“Software, technology… powers obviously computers, phones and televisions, and all the things you’re used to, but it also powers buying things, how we communicate, how we teach our kids, how we move around.

“There is very little that you would have done today that doesn’t involve some form of technology.

“In a world where technology is the competitive advantage, that means that all of us need to understand it to some level,” Cannon-Brookes said.

“It doesn’t mean that we’re all going to become computer scientists or programmers, or that sort of thing, but we need to be able to understand it and be able to leverage it.”

He discussed the impact coding and technology is having on the economy and jobs, and how 40% of the current jobs in Australia will be lost to automation by 2025.

Belinda Pratten/ SuppliedAtlassian’s Mike Cannon-Brookes.

“But at the same time, many many jobs are being created,” he said.

“If you look at Atlassian we are creating many many new jobs and we take these sorts of disruptions and these sorts of newly created jobs… and make sure we prepare everyone we can for it — not just kids but adults [as well].”

When it comes to the Future Of Work, Cannon-Brookes sees a number of aspects as the key to achieving successful outcomes.

“Firstly, we need to get four million Aussie kids understanding and excited about computational thinking and learning to code — again, we don’t need more computer scientists but we need them to be able to understand that technology so they can leverage it in what ever job they go into.

“We would love to see a digital technology curriculum [in Australian schools]. Estonia, the UK have been doing this for years. We are well behind.”

Cannon-Brookes argues views also need to shift to the concept of life-long education rather thank thinking uni gradation is the end.

“Kids graduating today will have five different careers spanning 17 different jobs, they’re going to need to keep learning and changing as this pace of change keeps accelerating,” he said.

One way Atlassian is championing this shift is through their program “Comp Sci Kids”, the product of one of its ShipIt Days, which aims to gets every kid in Australia learning code at some level.

Now in its third year, the program has been held at 65 schools to over 3,000 kids and 270 teachers.

“Sixty-five schools is a drop in the bucket,” says Cannon-Brookes. “

We hope some how catalyse some sort of larger scale change with this, however our jobs is not to teach four millions kids to code.”

And when it comes to older workers, Cannon-Brookes said it’s the computational thinking and understanding why things happen in coding that is important.

To teach that, he then gave us a tutorial of a program used by Comp Sci Kids, as well as his seven-year-old.

“That might scare you a little bit but it’s totally doable, I assure you,” he said.

“My oldest [child] is seven, he is currently learning to write capital letters… and this stuff. So that’s the level of base learning that he has to be able to understand this sort of activity.

“Computational thinking is a problem solving method… It’s about how you take the mindset of computational thinking to take a problem and turn it into a structure, a language, a form that the computer can understand, which is more powerful that learning a particular programming language.

“Fundamentally it’s about breaking the problem down into a small series of building blocks. Every program is just a small series of building blocks.”

And that’s exactly how Scratch, the program we tried, works.

Here’s a look at it.

Screenshot/Scratch

After his quick-demo we learned how to build a list of commands to make certain actions appear on the screen.

Here are my efforts drawing a neat little square using a graffiti spray-like tool.

Screenshot/Scratch

Other challenges included learning to change the colour of the spray, adding sounds, and other things.

All I can say is that I envy kids learning this.

While I slowly started picking it in the short amount of time we had with Cannon-Brookes, it made me aware of the fundamental skills I lack having not been taught it as a child.

This point was reiterated by Cannon-Brookes who compared it to a child aged five learning to play golf, versus an adult picking up the sport at 50 — both will learn, eventually, although there is a clear advantage in learning earlier in life.

And that’s why the modern workforce and participants in the Future of Work need to be problem solvers, as well as the reason Cannon-Brookes favours programs like Scratch for his son.

“I want him to be curious about the world and how things are put together,” likening it Lego, with benefits in the developmental stages.

“He’s playing with it like Play Dough or clay, he’s learning to manipulate technology and getting it to do things.

“Whether he chooses to be a doctor or a lawyer, it’s totally irrelevant. It’s whenever he gets there there will be a huge amount of technology involved in that and he’s got to understand how [it works]”.

We might not all know how to code but this understanding of it and ability to grasp computational thinking will be the key to upskilling as automation changes work as we know it.

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