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HU MEENA — Cracking the code on computer science education in Mississippi

HU MEENA

During World War II, an elite group of Navajos called the “code talkers” used their Native American language, which was unwritten and complex, to help transmit top-secret military information.  Code talkers helped the Allies gain an important victory in the Pacific Theater.

Fast forward to today and coding means something dramatically different, but just as important.  Computer coding and programming are the foundation and the building blocks of our society and economy in the 21st century. 

That’s why, after experiencing rapid disruption and change for more than two decades at the helm of C Spire, I am helping lead the charge for more computer science education and opportunities in Mississippi.  Technology waits for no one and changes more often than President Trump’s Twitter feed. 

I used carbon paper and white-out when I typed my college essays — so I may be the least likely champion of computer science education. Today, STEM, which stands for science, technology, engineering and math, is the word you’ll hear most often when teachers, parents and students discuss imperatives for education and jobs in the 21st century digital economy.

As an upstart in the nascent wireless industry in 1988, our company embraced technology innovation as a pillar of our success. Increasingly, we realized that solid engineering and software development were not only driving our industry, but the rest of the national economy. We have observed that almost every industry has become technology driven and have learned that a tech savvy workforce is a must.

Mississippi has 1,144 unfilled computing jobs today. These are high-paying jobs with an average salary over $70,000 a year. That’s over an $80 million opportunity for our state’s economy annually. The demand for technological and computing jobs are estimated to grow at twice the rate of all other U.S. jobs. It’s imperative that Mississippi build a skilled workforce in computer science who can lead the way in today’s digital economy.

How do we get there? It starts with our youth and what they are studying in school right now. With less than 18% of public high schools teaching computer science,

C Spire is spreading awareness of this need and working with influencers in education to move the needle. Through coding challenges, humanoid robotic experiences, coding academies and public-private partnerships, we are exposing today’s youth to the amazing things they can accomplish through technology.

The opportunity is ripe! We encourage parents, educators, government officials and business leaders to seize the moment to take advantage of this great opportunity. If not us, who? If not now, when?

To learn more or get involved in the Mississippi Department of Education’s Computer Science for Mississippi program or the C Spire Tech Movement initiative, go to cs4ms.org or cspire.com/techmvmt.

» HU MEENA is chairman and CEO of C Spire, a Mississippi-based diversified telecommunications and technology services company.

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