Lack of Programming Skills Puts U.S. Security at Risk

Lack of Programming Skills Puts U.S. Security at Risk

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The former head of the U.S. Air Force Cyber Command believes the lack of interest in computer programming among U.S. youth is creating a very serious vulnerability in the nation's security.

The lack of American kids who actually know how to program computers is resulting a shortage of "cybersoldiers," according to Air Force General Robert Elder, who told author and media studies professor Douglas Rushkoff that the U.S. could find itself surpassed in cyberskills within the span of a single generation.

"General Elder has no problem attracting recruits ready to operate robots or fly drones using controllers modeled after the ones that come with the Sony PlayStation. Hell, they love playing videogames already," Rushkoff wrote on The Daily Beast. "His problem is finding high-school graduates with any experience or interest in actually programming all this stuff."

Rushkoff said U.S. kids aspire to become game designers while kids in India, China and Russia are learning how to write the code that will actually run those games. As a result, he wrote, "Our competitiveness in war, as well as in the high-tech market, is already being propped up by outsourcing contracts only as durable as the bank loans they're being funded with."

The underlying problem, according to the author, is a culture in the U.S. dedicated to end users which is strongly encouraged by a punitive and heavy-handed copyright system. "Instead of learning how to program a computer, our kids learn how to use one as it has been delivered," Rushkoff wrote. "In a computing marketplace where altering one's iPhone will 'brick' its functionality and where user improvement to programs is treated as an intellectual-property violation, it's no wonder we have adopted the attitude that our technology is finished and inviolable from the minute it has been purchased."

"It's time for an academic revolution as profound as the one motivated by the Sputnik launch," he continued. "If the false threat of the Soviets painting a sickle on the moon was enough to get calculus taught in a majority of American high schools, the real threat of a communications infrastructure meltdown should be enough to get us teaching Basic to Boy Scouts."

via: GameCulture

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Now, see, there's an idea. If I'd had a legit computer science class in high school or middle school, I might have actually done that. But because my college had clearly designed it's computer science major for people who were already extremely familiar with computer science (likely because they only expected private school students and not public school scum like me to be in class) I turned my back on something that probably would've helped me years and years onward. Or could've turned me into a "cybersoldier." Which is just an all around badass name.

"Oh, what are you? Just a regular old soldier? Well, I'm a cybersoldier! Oops, dropped my iPhone."

[EDIT] Oh, I followed the link to Air Force Cyber Command, and I cannot believe that's the actual proposed operator badge. It looks like whoever designed it was working on their first Photoshop project. "Oh, let's do one of those orbit thingys. And load up that sucker with lightning bolts. So people know it's powerful." "Shouldn't we reference the military in some way here?" "Er... I dunno... I guess... why don't we stick an old badge in the middle of the globe?"

It needs to be encouraged earlier.
Programming for me only started in my first year of Uni (I'm UK based). A part from that I'd only used visual basic for a couple months so I had little experience.

Not that there is anything wrong with it, but President Clinton passed a law that forced all branches of the U.S. Military to use one programming language:

Ada.

Hardly anyone outside of these circles knows this. It isn't taught in schools or universities. Although recently the important MIT computing course has after 30 years of pissing everyone off by teaching the functional programming language Scheme instead of the more popular C has finally announced that it is switching to Python (which is very popular with web programmers). The reason given is that Python has better support for robots, something that MIT is interested in:

http://blog.snowtide.com/2009/03/24/why-mit-now-uses-python-instead-of-scheme-for-its-undergraduate-cs-program

It may help matters if the Military paid for the creation of a free, open-source Python to Ada compiler. It seems to be an awkward situation.

HobbesMkii:
Now, see, there's an idea. If I'd had a legit computer science class in high school or middle school, I might have actually done that. But because my college had clearly designed it's computer science major for people who were already extremely familiar with computer science (likely because they only expected private school students and not public school scum like me to be in class)

This.

I got to college after the military and have spent the last three years playing catch-up. The CS program is very difficult for those who didn't get into programming as a high school student (or earlier).

His ideas are good, although BASIC is horrible. Have the schools start with something better.

*Jumps up and down with hand raised.*

Me! Me! I want to be a cybersoldier!

I'm pretty sure the lack of programming skills is that school don't teach it, and most students are not going to go out of their way to learn programming at home.

Also might be fact this not the late 70's where it was all new and interesting and could learn how make your own games and software in about a month and hardly anything had been invented so sky rearly was limmit. Now everything been done copyrighted restricted and the IT is now such a broad term as impossible to be a specialist in anything but one or two areas of the industry. I see them trying to attract more people interested in going into the gaming industry as first place anyone gets into coding nowadays as gaming industry is more relaxed with its property when comes to modifying and coding making it ideal place to look for talent.

edit

cobrausn:

His ideas are good, although BASIC is horrible. Have the schools start with something better.

Not that bad and believe building blocks for most languages so a good place to start, that and used a lot in industry as cheap and reliable.

if you teach kids how programming works early on then maybe more people would be more interested in it because programing is extremely frustrating and is something that takes years of practice. maybe then more people would be drawn into it

There are plenty of programmers. The problem is that most of them don't want to waste their life in the military.

Give me a scolarship and a goverment job and im in, plus a citizenship.

HobbesMkii:
Now, see, there's an idea. If I'd had a legit computer science class in high school or middle school, I might have actually done that. But because my college had clearly designed it's computer science major for people who were already extremely familiar with computer science (likely because they only expected private school students and not public school scum like me to be in class)

This is a rather big problem for me. Right now, 3 of my computer science classes I had signed up for at our local community college ended up getting canceled because only 5 or so people actually signed up for it.

Programming isn't taught in most Canadian high schools either. You don't see those kind of classes till college/university. I took grade 10-12 computer classes in high school because it was easy marks. I actually was better with the computers than the head of the teachers teaching the classes.

Why do I now have the feeling that that is what i'll be doing once I get commisioned into the Air Force? Me being the computer science major nand all?

To all you "my class got cancelled" guys: it's not exactly difficult to self-teach.

harhol:
There are plenty of programmers. The problem is that most of them don't want to waste their life in the military.

There are many more wastes of a life than the military. Even a short stint is a good life experience, but not for everyone.

In the end, most programmers are not capable of the military life. You know, being un-athletic nerds and all.

harhol:
To all you "my class got cancelled" guys: it's not exactly difficult to self-teach.

Right. Self-taught programming is a good way to learn many horrible programming practices unless you end up being a natural. Learning from someone who has already made the mistakes is a much better option.

cobrausn:
Self-taught programming is a good way to learn many horrible programming practices unless you end up being a natural. Learning from someone who has already made the mistakes is a much better option.

Clearly. But there are hundreds of thousands of excellent self-taught programmers out there. All you need is a guide and a computer. You don't have to pay money to become good at something.

harhol:

cobrausn:
Self-taught programming is a good way to learn many horrible programming practices unless you end up being a natural. Learning from someone who has already made the mistakes is a much better option.

Clearly. But there are hundreds of thousands of excellent self-taught programmers out there. All you need is a guide and a computer. You don't have to pay money to become good at something.

This is true, but I believe what the guy was trying to say was that there are not enough people interested in programming in the US. Which is true at the college level, so it seems. He thinks teaching some computer science in high school would increase the number of programmers we get nationwide, which would increase the chances of pulling in people willing to do programming for the military, which would be good.

I don't disagree.

Maybe you stop making it so hard to major in that feild

Here in New Zealand, we DO have a computer classes at school, however there isn't any official Recognition by NCEA (the people who make exams etc). We are being taught programming but it is pretty limited stuff. I have two classes, one of them is a kinda basic (Such as: -b>"text"-/b> makes bold) While in the other we are doing visual basic stuff, such as making simple chance games. Now this is pretty basic stuff but the VB stuff can get kinda hard, mostly because of my lack of experience with it. Maybe we need to be introduced to programming at a younger age?

Anyway, Cybersoldier does sound kickass :D

(BTW im typing this while in Computing class right now)

I have to add to the self taught thing...

Out of all of the programming languages I was taught in college i don't use a single one of them in my job.

The one language I did teach myself which is Flex (through books, training video's, etc) pays my bills. I'm now even an ACE for Flex so I do have to support to teach yourself approach. However there is one exception. The logic, design models etc I was taught in school made picking up other languages easier. So it is nice to have a balance of both.

 

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