Learning to program is vital for the future

Published on: Thursday 16 October 2014

This week is Code Week – an event that highlights the importance of children learning to program.

Learning to program is vital for the future

The need to get more youngsters involved in programming is illustrated by the fact that, by the end of 2020, Europe will have 900,000 fewer ICT professionals than it needs. With a view to helping to ensure that educational provision is more effectively geared to the demand for well-trained specialists, last Friday we endorsed the statement ‘Leren programmeren is broodnodig voor de toekomst’ (‘Learning to program is vital for the future’).

Top people needed to ensure the stability and security of the .nl domain

SIDN has a large team of ICT professionals. As the registry for the .nl domain, we are responsible for the functional stability and development of the .nl internet domain. We register.nl domain names, of which there are now more than 5.5 million, and we make sure that they are reachable on the internet. Every day, our systems handle more than a billion search queries generated by computers as their users visit websites and send and receive e-mails. To make sure that those systems are secure and stable, we need well-trained specialists and programmers.

Why did you choose to become a programmer?

Michiel Graat and Rik Ribbers are two of our programmers.

Michiel Graat Rik Ribbers

Michiel got interested in how computers and programs work when he was just a boy. How do those gadgets do all those things? Why does something happen on my screen when I hit a key on the keyboard? His desire to know the answers was what led him to study informatics. Rik was studying chemical technology when he came cross the software used to control major chemicals plants. He found it so interesting that he decided to spend a further two years studying technical automation. “Programming is creative,” says Michiel. “You are creating something out of nothing. Most people enjoy doing that, and I’m no different. It’s often like doing a puzzle: here’s the problem, now what’s the solution? And what’s the best solution? Thinking through questions like that and solving problems is something you can never get bored of.”

What is the best thing you’ve ever developed?

Rik: “In a previous job, we had to replace the entire basis of a large administrative system (with about two hundred users) while keeping everything operational. The whole process took about two years. I enjoyed the technical challenge of keeping the system running and rebuilding it at the same time.” Michiel: “I’ve developed many things that gave me a lot a satisfaction, but one that springs to mind was a timing system for runners. It involved a chip that each runner carried on their shoe, which the timing system registered when the runner passed over a special mat. The registered times were automatically relayed to our system, and we then calculated the lap times. The times were published on a website, which the runners could log in to and view graphs comparing their own lap times with other runners’ performances, and so on.”

What makes your job at SIDN such an enjoyable challenge?

Rik: “Most people take it for granted that the internet is always there and always works. But, working at SIDN, I am reminded every day that the internet isn’t ‘just there’. All sorts of software and hardware are operating round the clock to make it seem to the outside world that the internet is something we can all take for granted.” Michiel: “SIDN is responsible for .nl and that is no small job. We have to keep the domain in the air twenty-four-seven and process a huge volume of data at the same time. So, whenever you do anything as a programmer, you have to consider whether what you are doing could compromise the availability of our systems. You have a lot of responsibility on your shoulders, and that’s challenging. You’re also involved with the working of the internet and the way it’s developing. That’s really fascinating!”

Why should children be introduced to coding early?

Rik: “Nowadays, everything uses software. Your TV, your tablet and your phone, of course … but also less obvious things, such as your heating thermostat and the lamp in your living room. Children are naturally creative and inquisitive. Coding is a playful way of making them aware of what you can do with software.” Michiel: “Programming teaches you to think logically and to break big problems down into bite-sized chunks. A problem that at first sight looks impossible to resolve turns out to be solvable after all. You can never develop skills like that too young, because they’ll come in useful throughout your life. It’s also the case that software is becoming more and more important. We need a lot of people who can do things with software. The earlier in life you are introduced to programming, the sooner you can discover how much fun it is.”

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