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Do I really need to learn to code? CEO Hadi Partovi and Girls Who Code CEO Reshma Saujani discuss on Too Embarrassed to Ask.

Eric Johnson for Recode

Whenever the talk about personal drama and alleged scandals about the candidates in the 2016 election died down, the rest of the discussion was all about jobs, jobs, jobs. For tech-aware people, job anxiety often leads to an intimidating web search: “Learn to code.”

“These days, I feel like the American dream is broken,” CEO Hadi Partovi said on the latest episode of Too Embarrassed to Ask. “Americans broadly feel the idea that if you work hard, the system will help you get somewhere doesn’t feel like it’s actually happening, and the system is rigged against them.”

“And computer science is a big, big part of that,” he added. “This is a key field that literally leads to the best-paying jobs in the world, the best careers. It’s the largest sector of all new wages in this country, and yet our schools aren’t teaching it.”

Partovi’s nonprofit is trying to fix that, expanding the presence of mandatory coding classes in schools across America. He was joined on the new podcast episode by Reshma Saujani, CEO of Girls Who Code, who believes that everyone should be learning to code, but wants to make sure that we don’t forget the half of the population that is currently less likely to try.

“I would go into schools and see thousands of Hadis, learning how to code,” Saujani said of her brief political career. “And I was like, ‘Where are all the girls?’ It didn’t make sense to me that women were not a part of this, that women of color and underserved girls were not a part of this industry.”

“You still hear this perception that boys are good at math and girls are not, and it’s not cool and it’s not interesting,” she added. “And I think we have to shift the culture. It’s so deeply entrenched in who we are. Girls don’t see this as a profession that is 'for them' or 'open to them.’”

So, back to that intimidating web search: Where do you start? Partovi said the good news is that whatever language you try to learn first is largely irrelevant.

“If I was to suggest one language to learn, I would suggest JavaScript, because you can do the most different things with it,” he said. “But it’s also a fallacy to think about this as, ‘Which is the one language I should learn?’ Whichever language you can learn, once you get good at it, you can switch languages in about four weeks. It’s the concepts that are important.”

Saujani said she urges young girls to try Scratch, a user-friendly drag-and-drop programming language. And she said that getting parents learning those programming concepts is equally important.

“If you’re a parent, and you yourself don’t know how to code, it’s hard for you to tell your kid to code,” she said. “Khan Academy has a great, interactive platform where you can watch a video, learn how to code, and do it all at once.”

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