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Top Coders Say These Skills Will Give Kids a Head Start in the Industry

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Jobs in programming continue to be lucrative and in demand, and there are a number of skills that kids can pick up to ensure they have the best chance of succeeding in the industry. 

There's no shortage of roles in programming. In fact, according the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' occupational outlook handbook, employment in computer and information technology roles is set to grow by 13% from 2020 to 2030, "faster than the average for all occupations." 

This sector is expected to add around 667,600 new jobs to the U.S. economy, based on the 2020 summary data provided by the BLS. 

Meanwhile, jobs website Glassdoor found that the role of Java developer was the best job to apply for in the U.K. in 2022, according to annual rankings published Wednesday. Java developers work on the design and development of applications used the Java programming language. Glassdoor found that the role pays £55,381 ($75,007) on average in the U.K. 

It's therefore no wonder that many parents are eager for their kids to pursue jobs in this field. Fortunately, even some of the most basic soft skills can give kids a strong head start in coding. 

'Love of learning'

Cory Althoff, author of "The Self-Taught Programmer," told CNBC via video that adaptability is one quality that could help kids succeed as a programmer.

He added that strong literacy helps because a good understanding of grammar and syntax is a skill that can be applied in programming.

Picking the right programming language to learn is also key, Althoff said. He recommended that kids start with Python or JavaScript. 

Both are examples of high-level programming languages, he said, "making them easier to understand than a low-level language like C (which many universities often teach first)." 

Althoff said that while low-level languages give the programmer more control because it means coding closer to the machine, they do so "at the expense of needing more knowledge to make their code run."

"Computers only understand zeros and ones, so coding at the machine level means coding with only 0s and 1s, which is very difficult," he said, particularly in terms of making the code longer.

He said that Scratch would also be suitable for kids in elementary or middle school because it's a "graphic language that is even easier to understand than a language like Python, and it can make programming very fun." 

However, Althoff pointed out that you can't get a job as a Scratch programmer, and if a child wants to continue learning to build projects, they would eventually have to transition to learning a language like Python or JavaScript. 

Althoff recommended that kids use their early coding skills to build simple games, such as "Hangman," because they can be created relatively quickly. 

"When you are learning to program, at first, it feels like you are studying a bunch of random concepts, and most people struggle to see how they can use the ideas to build anything worthwhile," he said. 

Ultimately, however, Althoff said that building games with code shows kids that programming can be "powerful and fun." 


Balaji Jayapal, data engineering manager at Meta Platforms' (formerly Facebook) Messenger application, told CNBC via email that organizational skills are important in programming as they help "identify ways to break it down into smaller tasks that are more easily accomplished."

Collaboration is another skill that Jayapal said would be key to success in the industry.

"Your child might not enjoy building a sorter or a forklift, but they may enjoy coding how these components work, or making sure two components can talk to each other," he said, explaining that being a successful coder depends "heavily on making sure your solution can complement and work well with a component someone else built."

Jayapal added that "means it's also important to teach kids how to support each other when someone gets stuck."

Patience and the ability to troubleshoot problems are other skills that are important to develop as a coder, he said, given that things "rarely work as they're supposed to."

He suggested that parents help kids hone their problem-solving skills by showing them how to retrace their steps, and encouraging them to check that the code is doing what it's designed to do and that the "components are assembled correctly."

Jayapal is the father of eight-year-old twins, who take part in a beginner "LEGO league," a competition for kids that is focused on science, technology, engineering and math skills.

He said that during the competition, the kids are split into groups of four and prepare for an event in which they showcase solutions to a problem, such as by sorting blocks of Lego by color or transporting them.  

'Let go of perfectionism and fear'

"Embracing errors" is also a key part of becoming a good coder, according to Zoe Bachman, curriculum director for code learning platform Codecademy.

Bachman said making errors actually gives you more information to work with when writing code.

She told CNBC via video call that in traditional academic education there could sometimes be a "premium on being right," but suggested that this kind of mentality could be restrictive.

Bachman therefore encouraged budding young coders to "let go of perfectionism and fear."

Check out: This is the type of praise parents should stop giving kids, says psychologist: ‘It holds them back from resilience’

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