Mark Zuckerberg had a message Thursday for his 17,449,206 friends on Facebook.
"Everyone should have the chance to learn to code in school," posted the boy genius who dropped out of Harvard to put his own programming skills to use forming the world's biggest social network. "I'm proud to support code.org."
Job Deficit Looms
The Facebook founder and CEO posted a video with his message from Code.org, a non-profit founded by tech leaders dedicated to growing computer education.
The video warns that the high-tech industry will create 1.4 million computer jobs in the next decade, but projections show that only 400,000 college graduates will apply for them, leaving a huge deficit.
Children in the video, asked what they want to be when they grow up, give traditional answers such as firefighter, astronaut, actor, basketball player, doctor -- even a mermaid -- but draw blanks when asked if they would consider a computer career.
Most of the children featured are minorities, suggesting that the effort is aiming to address under-representation in those communities at high-tech companies. A 2010 study by the San Jose Mercury News found that African-American and Latino representation in Silicon Valley actually decreased from 2000 to 2008.
"We believe computer science and computer programming should be part of the core curriculum in education, alongside other science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) courses, such as biology, physics, chemistry and algebra," Code.org says.
Aside from advocacy, the group aims to build "an authoritative database of all programming schools, whether they are online courses, brick-and-mortar schools or summer camps."
The video features appearances by Zuckerberg, Bill Gates of Microsoft, Twitter founder Jack Dorsey, Dropbox founder Drew Houston, fashion site Clothia founder Elena Silenok, and others, talking about their own first experiences in programming and the joys of digital creation.
"Programming is one of the only things you can do in the world where you can sit down and make something completely new from scratch," Zuckerberg says whimsically.
Several of the entrepreneurs agree that the stereotype that you have to be a genius to be a programmer is false: You just have to be determined.
Code.org has also been endorsed by former President Bill Clinton, Black Eyed Peas front-man and entrepreneur will.i.am, actor Ashton Kutcher, Virgin Group Founder Richard Branson and others, who feature testimonials on the site.
Staying on Top
Technology consultant Rob Enderle told us the effort was an important one in keeping the U.S. competitive globally.
"America is falling behind, math scores are falling," he said. "The idea of going into a tech job to be successful has almost dropped off the map, and places like India and China are advancing skills in many areas vastly faster than the Western World -- with programming increasingly being a skill set that is lagging."
He added that the allure of being a tech maven has cooled in recent years because of the proliferation of free software that has cut into profitability in the West.
"However the need for good programmers continues to increase, and if this brain drain doesn't slow or reverse we could be looking at Asia as the tech giant rather than the U.S., much like we do for consumer electronics, railroads, and energy -- all of which were initially owned by the U.S."
Code.org says the 1.4 million computer jobs, growing at twice the national average, that are up for grabs through 2020 represent "a $500 billion opportunity."