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Tom Tangney

New film hopes to recruit computer programmers of all types

Ever seriously think about being a computer programmer?

Me neither.

A new movie launches this week that will try to get millions of us to reconsider and the biggest names in technology are backing it: Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Amazon.com, Dropbox, and Twitter.

"Here we are in 2013. We all depend on technology to communicate and none of us know how to read and write code," says will.i.am in the film, a member of the Black Eyed Peas.

So in other words, we're computer illiterates, when it comes to programming.

Now before you get the wrong idea, this movie is not a Hollywood extravaganza - it's basically a short, a film designed to recruit students (and teachers too) to become software engineers.

Starting this week, it will play before all movie screenings at Regal Cinemas nationwide. It will also be distributed to schools, where as many as 10 million students will have access to it in their classrooms. YouTube and Facebook will also actively promote it on their sites.

And why this major recruiting effort? Code.org, a non-profit whose goal is to improve computer literacy, says there are just not enough programmers in this country.

"Our policy is literally to hire as many talented engineers as we can find," says Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. "The whole limit in the system is just that there aren't enough people who are trained and have these skills today."

This film claims there are a million tech jobs here that go wanting for lack of qualified workers. Only one in ten schools even teach computer programming.

Okay, so there's clearly a need. But that doesn't mean just any of us can actually do the job, right?

The movie does its best to demystify the job.

"You don't have to be a genius to know how to code - you need to be determined."

"Addition, subtraction, that's about it."

"You should probably know your multiplication tables."

"You don't have to be genius to code, do you have to be a genius to read?"

Hey, I can read. I know how to add, subtract and multiply. Maybe I could do this.

"A lot of the coding people do is actually fairly simple. It's more about the process of breaking down problems than coming up with complicated problems as people traditionally think about it."

Okay, so it's really just a series of small jobs. That sounds manageable too.

"It's really not unlike playing an instrument or something, or playing a sport. It starts out being really intimidating, but you get the hang of it over time."

Well, I never really got the hang of piano, no matter how many years I practiced. But sports, I can do sports.

Speaking of sports, it turns out one of the multimillionaire stars of the world-champion Miami Heat - Chris Bosh - knows code. "Coding is something that can be learned and I know it can be intimidating a lot of things are intimidating but, what isn't?"

In case the target audience isn't into the NBA, the film also speaks the language of nerds everywhere.

"The programmers of tomorrow are the wizards of the future. You're going to look like you have magic powers compared to everyone else."

"It's amazing, it's the closest thing we have to a super power."

Wizards, superheroes, magic powers. Now you're talking to the target demo, except they're probably already software engineers.

The best appeal may be to the do-gooders, many of whom I suspect are a little suspicious of technology.

"Whether you're trying to make a lot of money or you just want to change the world computer programming is an incredibly empowering skill to learn."

"I think if someone had told me, software is really about humanity, about helping people by using computer technology it would have changed my outlook a lot earlier."

Become a programmer and change the world. Now that's catchy.

Tom Tangney, KIRO Radio Host, Film & Media Critic
Tom Tangney is the co-host of The Tom and Curley Show on KIRO Radio and resident enthusiast of...everything. As the film and media critic on the Morning News on KIRO Radio, he espouses his love for books, movies, TV, art, pop culture, politics, sports, and Husky football.
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By day, you can hear Tom on KIRO Radio 97.3 FM, and by night, he sits in the dark, making snide comments about what he sees on the silver screen.

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