Programming for kindergarten kids

Linda Liukas interview – Children learn programming

The most important language in the world

Which languages should children learn? French or English? Totally wrong, according to Linda Liukas from Finland. She argues that children should be brushing up on the Java and Ruby programming languages. Companies would ultimately benefit from this too.

Interview: Ladina Camenisch,  

It's your belief that programming language is the most important language in the world. Why?

Our world is increasingly influenced by computers. I am convinced that we should be actively involved in shaping our future. This means that everyone should have a basic understanding of how computers work. Because you can only help design something if you understand it. Many people are afraid of technology. When it comes to programming, most people give up straight away. I wish people had the same attitude to learning programming as they have to learning Italian. Because they are basically the same thing: languages. And languages open up new worlds. If you express yourself well, you'll have greater opportunities. The Swiss in particular are very aware of this. I am always impressed by the ease with which they switch from one language to another. In my perfect world, people would switch between JavaScript and Ruby the way they switch between German and Italian or French.

Linda Liukas was named “Digital Champion of Finland” by the EU and is among Europe’s “Top 50” women in the field of technology.

Are you saying that all of us should become programmers?

No, not at all. Everyone should do whatever makes them happy. But it doesn’t hurt if we also have some basic technological knowledge – and programming is part of that.

You are a strongly in favour of children acquiring this knowledge as early as pre-school. Aren’t they still a bit young?

On the contrary. In my industry, people always talk about how everything should be scalable. And what is more scalable than a six-year-old? Children have so much potential: Their curiosity is infinite and they have no reservations. They are the CEOs of tomorrow. So I couldn't think of anyone better to invest in. A funny side-effect of this is that adults also benefit indirectly. Parents read my book to their children and sometimes I wonder who's learning more. I believe that adults also understand the message in this childlike, playful way better than when a management consultant tries to convince them that digitisation is the last chance for their company.

In your children’s book, a girl called Ruby is the main character. Is the advancement of girls something that's especially close to your heart?

Yes. Ruby is a strong little girl who's not afraid of anything. Children are meant to identify with her. When I was in Japan, I asked a classroom of children who their favourite character in the book was. Even the boys said “Ruby”. I jumped for joy inside. This is exactly how emancipation works! I wish I'd had a book like this when I was a child. So to an extent I also wrote it for the little girl I once was.

Linda Liukas

Linda Liukas is a Finnish programmer, children’s author and illustrator. Her children’s book “Hello Ruby” was financed by Finland’s most successful Kickstarter campaign. In her book she aims to give children a better understanding of programming in a fun way. Although she dropped out of business school, many top managers are inspired by her unusual approach.

Go to her book

«Code almost never works the first time. That’s why programmers are so resistant to failures – we've got used to them.»

Linda Liukas, programmer, children's author and illustrator

Many Swiss companies are run by men with greying temples. Is their heyday coming to an end?

I dread these European men in their mid-50s less than the 20-somethings in Silicon Valley. They all look cool, work with the same cool people and invent cool products. We mustn't just hand over the reins to these young Californians! Of course, they've created many amazing things in the last few years, but ultimately almost all companies in Silicon Valley are mainly about profit through marketing. However, in my opinion technology can provide much greater benefits. The more people who engage with technology – and particularly the more diverse these people are – the more versatile the solutions to problems will be. I'm thinking about medical developments or transport solutions, not about cool new headphones.

Back to the Swiss CEOs again. What advice would you like to give them for the coming years?

The greatest risk is not to take any risks. Therefore: Be prepared to take a chance. There will be failures, of course, but this is inevitable. Indeed, hardly anyone fails more often than a programmer. Code almost never works the first time. That’s why programmers are so resistant to failures – we've got used to them. CEOs should take inspiration from this approach. And I have one more piece of advice: Employ juniors – and employ more women! On the one hand, juniors need an opportunity to prove themselves and gain experience, and on the other they contribute lots of new ideas to a company. Nothing is worse than stewing in your own juice.

Do Swiss companies stand any chance at all against the American and Asian giants?

Both Finland and Switzerland are relatively small countries, but this isn't necessarily a disadvantage. We are faster, more agile, and we can respond much better to trends and developments. Countries such as ours should have a healthy level of self-confidence. Finnish and Swiss companies have everything they need to be successful. However, they also have to have courage. I don’t believe there'll be a domestic market for much longer. This is why countries such as Switzerland and Finland should produce world-class products – and not just for us, but for the whole world.

In your opinion, what would happen to a company that wasn't open to digitisation?

It’s simple – it would disappear.

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