JONES: Is computer literacy required for innovation?

May 30, 2015

innovation-sig-jones-scott.jpgDid you know that, as of last year, there are more computers on the planet than people? In driving today’s innovations, we sometimes take for granted that computers are woven into just about every aspect of our personal lives and businesses.

So, how literate must we be with these devices and their languages? It depends. Obviously, some people will need a great deal of knowledge for their job. Others will need to know enough to communicate with computers. Still others might just want to learn to “think better.” Learning a computer language can help with that, especially with problem solving.

Certainly, many adults view coding as a specialty skill they know little about and don’t need to know about. Consider that, centuries ago, literacy was enjoyed by an extremely small fraction of the population. Literacy was closely tied to power and was confined to the ruling elite. Consider that, by some standards, the ruling elite of today include the likes of Mark Zuckerberg, Marissa Mayer, Bill Gates and others who lead innovation.

I am thankful that my daughter, who will turn 1 year old in July, is already remarkably facile with the controls of an iPad, demonstrating that she is already more literate with computers than she is with her alphabet. I hope she learns programming someday, even if she doesn’t choose a career that requires her to sling code daily.

In your work or personal life, you probably know few people who don’t use computers and smartphones in some fashion, whether for texting, email or searching the Web. But, just as there is a hierarchy of literacy for reading, writing and arithmetic, there exists a spectrum of proficiency in the world of computers. Simply put, those who excel at higher levels of computer literacy have advantages over those who don’t, and this is particularly true in areas of innovation fueled by ever more powerful and ubiquitous computing devices.

Indeed, I felt so strongly about the impact of computer literacy on innovation here in Indiana that I started Eleven Fifty Academy to give anybody an opportunity to learn coding skills, from a beginner to a guru level. In addition to hard-core programmers, we’ve trained non-programming project managers, product managers, designers and even C-level execs. To my delight, we see an increasing number of college and high school students (as well as their professors!) ramping up the learning curve.

Given my personal ambition of continual learning, I’ve enrolled myself in innovation areas that seem to have zoomed by me while I wasn’t looking, including areas such as big data and wearable devices. The innovation leaders of today, and especially of tomorrow, will be the ones with the highest levels of literacy in the ever-expanding world of computers.•


Jones is the co-creator of voicemail, Gracenote, ChaCha, Eleven Fifty and more.

Check out the rest of IBJ's 2015 Innovation Issue.

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