The Next Generation

I got a tweet from a bot that told me yesterday was my fifth anniversary on Twitter.

 

That got me thinking about how long I'd been doing the things I do every day on the Internet. And I responded with this tweet last night.

 

 

It was at age fourteen that I started going down to the West Point computer center and playing around with the mainframes they had there. It was 1975 and I was going into ninth grade. It was super cool to be able to create things on the computer. We mostly hacked up graphics stuff and crude computer games. And we didn't go often. There were only certain times of the week we could go and it was a bit of a walk from our home.

Contrast that to today. I met with about 140 eighth graders yesterday at one of our Academy For Software Engineering open houses. These kids don't have to walk a mile to a computer center that is only open to them a few hours a week in order to hack around. They have laptops in their schools and many of them have laptops at home.

When I meet with these eighth graders I like to ask them "if you had the coding skills to build anything, what would you build?" The answers are inspiring. One young man told me he wanted to build a better operating system. He was going to fork a version of linux and do just that. 

 

 

Another eighth grader said he wanted to build a better social network, one that was based on the things that interested him and one that would connect him with kids around the world that were interested in the same things.

The girls in the room were full of ideas as well. They haven't yet reached the age when they are told they shouldn't be software engineers. I hope they can become accomplished software engineers before anyone tells them that.

These eighth graders were mostly born in 1998. They are the same age as Google. They have never known a world without a browser, a search engine, and a way to connect instantly to people on the Internet. They expect things to work a certain way and when they don't, they want to fix them. They are hackers by default.

If there is anything I've learned in the past few weeks as I've met between five hundred and a thousand eighth graders throughout the NYC public school system, it is that computers and the Internet are front and center in this generation's brain regardless of upbringing.

I suspect that is because this next generation has had access to computers in a way that preceding generations did not. As the cost and form factor of powerful computers comes down, computing reaches a broader segment of the population of America and eventually the world. And it is human nature to want to understand, control, and fix the things that you use every day.

So hacker culture is spreading from those with means to a much broader population. And this is happening on a global scale. It's impossible to comprehend what the result of this shift will be. But I think it's going to be transformative in many ways.