Do you want to be a computer scientist when you grow up?

Many students, when asked that question, probably think that computer science is a desirable career – but also envision computer scientists as geeky, glasses-wearing white men. That’s according to new research released by Google and Gallup, based on a multi-year survey of parents, students, and teachers.

These stereotypes enforce dangerous assumptions in American culture – that STEM fields such as computer science are reserved for the privileged few. It’s up to the business community to change that perception and encourage more involvement in computer science from girls, African Americans, and Hispanic students. This is necessary because it’s the right thing to do – and because getting computer science skills into the hands of all kids will help better prepare them for the state’s high-paying, in-demand jobs.

In Colorado, software developers, for example, make, on average, anywhere between about $90,000-$100,000 a year. Web developers, who make a beginning salary of just under $65,000 a year, need those skills and just an associate’s degree for many entry-level positions. (2015 Skills for Jobs Report, Colorado Department of Higher Education).

So, how can Colorado improve the image of computer science for these students? One answer: provide lots of opportunities to learn, whether in the classroom, as a part of a club, or in a summer camp. An earlier Google survey found that girls, for example, just needed exposure to computer science – any computer science – and they were more likely to pursue the subject as a degree.

Business leaders know that though experience is important, it’s the quality of those experiences that is paramount. So for girls and unrepresented students in Colorado, schools must provide opportunities to learn that are linked to skills in the real world and that are taught by a quality instructor. A child’s teacher is the number one factor in their school success, and that principle should be applied here too. Public K-12 programs need highly qualified teachers in computer science – a job that should be incentivized for anyone committed to this critical discipline.

These are just some of the steps that Colorado needs to take so that, when asked “Do you want to be a computer scientist when you grow up?” all kids envision that person looks a little something like them.

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