The importance of hardware and why we should encourage our children to tinker with it is somewhere getting lost in the craze for coding. When curriculums and parents focus more on programming today, we find out why hardware education is equally necessary.

 

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Andy is only ten years old but, give him a circuit board and some transistors, capacitors, and diodes, and he will delight you with do-it-yourself (DIY) projects instantly, without taking anyone’s help. He has been tinkering with hardware since he was a four-year-old. Andy’s affinity with puzzles is another story.

His social media followers under AndysTechGarage are testimony to his popularity as a passionate young maker focusing on space, robotics, 3D printing, and other science projects. He and his nine-year-old sister, Eva, are also a constant at several Maker Faire events showcasing their projects and winning accolades.

When most parents do not prioritize teaching hardware to their children as they consider coding an essential 21st-century skill, the brother-sister duo’s inspiring adventure of building things wouldn’t have been complete without their equally inspiring dad, Wally, who is the driving force behind their exemplary learning journey.

 

“In a digital versus the analog world, the simplicity and beauty of the former shine in the simplest examples. The lightswitch, an old refrigerator or iron — all work on old fashion analog solutions and do not need the added complexities and expenses of operating systems and coding,” says Wally.

“Analog solutions for kids are easier to understand when explained within proper context. Take a light sensor switch diagram from Snap Circuits versus the coding involved in programming, a similar action on an Arduino. Analog wins by a long shot and it can easily be explained to children of any age by asking them to imagine the circuit works just as their eyes do. Mission accomplished,” he adds.

 

There is no denying the need to learn programming skills in an increasingly digital world, but simultaneously learning to build hardware is equally as necessary for children.

As Forrest Mims, the most widely read electronics author and one of the “50 Best Brains in Science” by Discovery Magazine, opines:

 

 

“Learning to code without ever building any hardware is like reading a brochure about a famous museum without visiting it in person.”

 

Reiterating on how necessary it is to build hardware before going on to code, Mims states:

 

“I once saw an article about how to flash an LED by programming a microcontroller when simply building a 555 LED flasher would have been faster and simpler. The finished circuit would be small and powered by a small, 3-volt lithium coin cell. It could be clipped to a cap for night walking or bicycling or inserted into the payload section of a model rocket for tracking night flights.”

 

Echoing Mims’ views, Wally adds:

 

“Learning to code without a good understanding of hardware is akin to claiming some are computer experts just because they use AOL to access the web.”

 

Hardware is all around us

From materials like wood, metal, plastic we use in our day-to-day lives to tools like axes, hammers, and knives. It all boils down to fundamentals. The essence of early learning for children is through play, and this builds the foundation of how to use basic materials and learn the process of making things in their raw format.

 

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To understand abstract concepts and to help build their spatial skills, children need to play with objects/hardware during their growing up years. For example, when you give children to play with geometric shapes, they will understand the concept of why a square is not round and vice versa. It is crucial to teach children why we use a particular tool or material or a particular gear.

Data Scientist, Teodora Beloreshka, explains it beautifully:

 

 

“Hardware and software are the two sides of the same coin. Hardware is what you have put together with your building blocks, and software is how you use what you have built.”

“For instance, we have a variety of tools for “cutting”: A knife, an axe, scalpels, scissors, etc. Most of them are made of metal, wooden and plastic pieces, and each instrument has a very narrow purpose, and is gravely unsuitable for other uses — cutting a paper with an axe is highly impractical, as is cutting a birthday cake with a long sword.”

Hardware is interaction. Teaching children the physics and math behind things they use will empower them with critical thinking and problem-solving skills. STEM education is just not about coding. It goes beyond that.

 

Building blocks can foster learning

Before children learn programming skills, they need to know basic science, individual building blocks, and building circuits. Showing them how to use different active and passive electronic components, tools, actuators, simple machines, materials, and sensors and why they need them in the first place will heighten their comprehensive understanding. Sensors are our eyes and ears to the world. The base of development and learning in children begins with such physical interaction with the world.

It is hardware/building blocks that aids learning by inspiring curiosity, creativity, and imagination during the foundational early childhood years. For instance, if you give them an electronic kit to tinker with, they will learn to explore, construct and design. They will also mess things up and learn from their mistakes.

Pointing out how basics of hardware education can build a child’s foundation, founder-president of Mand Labs, Gurpawan Mand, says:

 

 

“Real-world engineering is about solving problems. We are surrounded by them. Technology is not an end to means. Students need to develop a problem-solving approach and the right technical skills. They need exposure to the most recent technologies to be able to adapt and learn to use to apply to different contexts.”

“Mastering the theory is a necessary evil for a strong STEM background. It will give students a strong foundation to build upon.”

“Playing with new and exciting technologies without working on strong basics and theory leads nowhere. It is critical to strike a balance between exploration and instruction.”

“For instance, robotics is a multidisciplinary field that employs the use of physics and engineering design, mechanical engineering, electronics engineering, and computer science.”

“Playing with robotics toys to create a desire for learning is good. However, selling on plain assembly instructions for instant gratification would only create a weak foundation. Students need to learn the principles of physics and math to do robotics in the real world. Incorporating these principles through practice should be the main aim of educators teaching robotics.”

 

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Likewise, if an electrical engineering student has not learned to play and tinker with electronic components they will not be able to build real things. For example, just following the teacher’s instructions might help them get the desired grades, but that will not help them innovate or solve problems smartly. Hands-on learning fosters independence and confidence while receiving direct instruction will kill creativity and curiosity in them.

Talking about how essential it is to have a hands-on learning experience before anything else, Mims shares an interesting quote.

 

“Several years ago, I met a friend’s daughter who had just graduated with a master’s degree in electrical engineering. When I asked if she had built any hardware during her college years, she said she had not. She had never built any circuits on her own and never used a soldering iron. She’s a bright person and will probably do well in her career. But she would have been better taught and have a much better idea of the real world by having built some basic circuits along the way.”

 

There’s more to hardware education than meets the eye

All children might not be interested in electronics, electricity, or circuits, but teaching them the fundamentals will go a long way. Let’s take a look at some of the benefits of hardware education:

There’s significantly more to hardware education. If we look at the broader perspective, it can be broken down into the following:

We live in a world controlled by machines and technology. Think about electronics, mechanics, robotics, IoT, and hardware’s primary role shines through. Therefore, it is crucial to teach children about simple machines and their concepts and let them learn hands-on about friction, traction, force, velocity, acceleration, sound waves, angular velocity, amplitude, Newton’s laws of motion, the center of gravity, torque, the moment of inertia among others.

 

Physics is the core of it all

When teaching them light, just the theory entailing reflection, diffraction, refraction, various optical instruments, camera, optical sensors, LDR, CDS, photodiode, and phototransistor is not enough. Some activity-based experiments with objects along with concept building will help them understand the why’s and how’s.

 

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Similarly, while teaching electricity and electronics, the concept of voltage, current, polarity, types of current — AC and DC, potential difference, resistance, Ohm’s law, electric field, capacitance, inductance, impedance should be taught by building circuits. They should have a working knowledge of the circuit components, including terminals, power sources, and switches.

If you want your child to start with an Arduino — considered to be a bridge between hardware and software — your child will tinker with an Arduino and will learn how to build circuits and the fundamentals of coding. Similarly, while working with transistors that work as a switch or an amplifier, they will have a working knowledge of how a switch or a relay works; and they will be able to control a light bulb or any other equipment, both mechanically and electronically.

 

Decreases screen time

Hardware kits and toys can be an engaging way to help promote a love of science in children and hone life skills. As children learn to explore and manipulate components, difficult topics and subjects seem easier to understand.

Giving them a hardware kit to play will also limit their screen time. A study published in Acta Padiatrica reveals that brain connectivity in children is decreased by the length of exposure to screen-based media.

For instance, when you give children an electronic kit, they will experiment and connect the correct wires to see the LED glow. In the process, what they learned will remain for life. It was because they delved deep and tried it out. It also pushed them to think creatively.

Japanese philosopher and writer, Miyamoto Musashi, aptly writes in, The Book of Five Rings and Dokkodo:

 

“A man cannot understand the art he is studying if he only looks for the end result without taking the time to delve deeply into the reasoning of the study.”

 

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As the Fourth Industrial Revolution ushers in a life-changing shift in the way we live, it is affecting relatively each business sector, including hardware. Therefore, it is imperative to prepare our children for the future workforce.

In this era of advanced technologies, in the electronics and computer industries, hardware professionals have exciting opportunities to work on emerging techs in healthcare, manufacturing, hospitality, logistics, media production, and several others. The companies that produce and design the appliances that keep us all connected are some of the world’s most profit-making companies.

 

Innovations that make our lives easier

The advanced hardware produced in these companies ranges from mobile phones to personal computers, networking tools to printers, home appliances to peripheral devices, and semiconductors. They are popularly known as tech hardware because of their capabilities and latest in-built technology.

Lately, you must have seen reports of how the global chip shortage is affecting automotive companies like General Motors, Ford Motors, and other big names and how they are losing billions of dollars in sales. According to the consulting firm, AlixPartners, the present shortage is likely to cost the global automotive industry $110 billion in revenue in just 2021 alone.

The effects of the chips crisis have gone beyond the automotive industry. You must be wondering why you couldn’t get your hands on the latest PS-5? What will software development or game development companies do without the PS-5 console, which is hardware?

Did you know that our cars, cell phones, laptops, PlayStations, refrigerators, washing machines, and other electronic devices cannot function without semiconductor chips? Semiconductors drive the world. They power the electronic devices we use and also the factories that make these devices.

The Covid-19 pandemic has heightened the crisis as the world turned into a work-from-home mode, and the demand for personal computers, game consoles, televisions, and other electronic devices spiraled, leading to a supply-chain disruption. Gartner analysts suggest the worldwide semiconductor shortage will last until mid-2022.

As the 5G network is ready to take over the world, 5G-enabled chips are the future. Imagine the innovation and the opportunities that will open up for businesses and people in the telecommunications sector and other related industries!

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, hardware professionals are likely to grow by 6 percent from 2018-2028. Hardware is not just computer hardware; its applications extend to multiple industries, including:

This sector is immensely competitive as technology companies across the globe invest massively in research and development to come up with innovative services and products. Therefore, several leading firms in the hardware sector are among the influential companies in the world.

For instance, the innovation of some of the top global hardware companies, like Apple, Intel, Dell, Samsung, Sony, Philips, etc., influences several software companies. They have the power to influence decision-making.

 

Seamless integration

We can live with fewer apps on our cell phones, but we cannot imagine our lives without our phone, which is essentially hardware. Another consumer product that is revolutionizing the fitness industry and is a perfect integration of hardware and software is the smartwatch (think FitBit or the Apple watch).

 

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Also, as the Internet of Things (IoT) has invaded our lives, we cannot ignore the hardware utilized in IoT systems. Our servers, routers, remote dashboards, sensors, security systems for our homes, including smart locks, smart doorbells, thermostats, cameras, like Google Nest, vacuum cleaning robots (think Dyson and Roomba!), the list of innovations in hardware is never-ending. IoT is another example of how hardware and software work together.

Industrial robotics is another vital part of this sector that is easing industrial automation. It meets high manufacturing standards that can efficiently and accurately match industry requirements, and it is completely transforming the way we live and work. Some of the top global industrial robotics companies contributing to the revolution include Boston Dynamics, Mitsubishi, Epson Robots, Rockwell Automation, ABB Robotics, Rockwell Automation, etc.

The world is also taking notice of several hardware startups making inroads in design and innovation. They have been giving us solutions to some pressing problems — From air quality testing to food safety and sleep issues to traffic woes — these companies are innovating products that are making our lives safer, healthier, and comfortable. Sambanova Systems, Ayar Labs, GreyOrange Robotics, Goose-backed Outrider, OCLU, Nima, Prynt, Xanadu are some of the names that are making a difference in the hardware space.

 

Foray into Hollywood

 

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Intriguingly, hardware has made its way into Hollywood as well. Black Magic Design is one such industry leader giving creative editors and designers some of the best tools. The recent Hollywood action film Avengers: Age of Ultron used Black Magic Design’s pocket-cinema cameras. Other movies shot with this company’s products include 300, Checkmate, Logan, Jason Bourne, Tailgate, etc.

It is interesting to note that with varied industries come varied professional titles. Hardware professionals are not just hardware engineers, but their job titles can be as diverse as the following:

 

Conclusion

As long as we have gadgets and machines that get our work done, from entertaining us to cleaning floors and pools, keeping a tab on our schedules to carrying things around, we cannot undermine the role of hardware in our lives.

Therefore, there is a need to teach children the fundamentals of hardware at an early age to help them understand its workings and nuances before they get into coding. When hardware education and coding go hand-in-hand, we can accelerate our children’s learning and empower them to prepare for the future.

Kenneth Hawthorn, the author of Super Arduino and a Mechatronics instructor offering PD to teachers, rightly says:

 

 

“Teaching coding outside of electronic hardware reinforces the siloed black box mentality that part of this technological world is not appropriate for students to approach. Only with the balanced approach of teaching the computer as a whole do we approach real empowerment for students to go shape the world to match their dreams.”

 
 

Disclaimer: We reached out to Forrest Mims, Wally, Teodora Beloreshka, and Kenneth Hawthorn for their quotes on the topic. It was a voluntary effort in the advancement of STEM education. No monetary compensation is involved.

 

One year into the pandemic and over 800 million school students worldwide still face significant disruptions to their education, reveals a recently released UNESCO data. This disturbance has also left most of them struggling to learn STEM subjects, even as they find it enthralling and increasingly pertinent to their lives, suggests new research emphasized at the annual American Educational Research Association conference held in April 2021.

There’s no dearth of online learning resources as we continue education during these uncertain times. But finding the right tools and resources pose a challenge for parents.

The narrative of Arnold Thomas is a case in point.

 

“My 10-year-old granddaughter had just started showing interest in physics and electronics when they were forced to go online last year. As her parents were juggling work from home and homeschooling her, they couldn’t really pay much heed to her interest. This left her grappling.

When I was visiting them last month, I could see her knack for wiring things. I am an electronics enthusiast and as a child I was fascinated with Radio Shack 160 in One Electronics Project Kit. I wanted to get something similar for her so that she could enjoy working on the projects and at the same time learn hands on.

With a little research, I narrowed down on Mand Labs KIT-1, a DIY electronics kit, designed to teach children the basics of electronics — fiddle with circuits, wires, transistors, capacitors etc. I ordered one for her and I am very impressed with the kit because it is very similar to the Radio Shack kit that I used as a child.

Now she’s fully hooked on to the kit and has already made some interesting projects. She’s also surprised her parents by making an automatic night lamp for them. So glad that I got KIT-1 for her.”

Like Arnold, there are many grandparents/ parents and educators who have bought KIT-1 either to learn or teach their children/grandchildren. Let’s hear from them why they chose KIT-1 and how they are using the kit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

– All Graphics Credit: Sidra Choudhry

“The important thing is to be a man of the world. That’s what I have tried to be… and to a small extent succeeded. But I like to do things for people.”

— Narinder Singh Kapany

 

Image credit– R. R. Jones

 

He bent light. Something that his middle school teacher mentioned was impossible. In doing so, Narinder Singh Kapany lit the way for fiber optics and its myriad possibilities – high speed internet connectivity, medical imaging, defense surveillance techniques, superior quality broadcasting, stagecraft, laser lighting decoration, to name a few. The Father of Fiber Optics made it possible to transmit data (sound, light and images) from end to end at high speed and over longer distances with a near-zero loss in content. And all this in the world of 1952.

“He was a pioneer. An enthusiastic promoter of a technology that long seemed more like science fiction than fact.”

— Jeff Hecht, Science Journalist

 

The talking point: Narinder Singh Kapany

Born in 1936 in small town Moga in Punjab in British India, Kapany belonged to a simple background. His father worked in the coal industry. His early schooling in Dehradun throws up an interesting story.

“A small Kodak camera gifted by my father egged me to understand what happens inside. My physics teacher’s declaration that ‘light travels only in a straight’ line was the trigger point.”

Determined to understand what transpires between image and its reflection, the young lad who had played enough with the box camera knew that prisms and lens could alter the course of light.

 

Graduation and thereon:

A bachelor’s degree in science was followed by a brief job stint at the Indian Ordinance and Factories Services. Here he learnt how to design and manufacture optical instruments. But his innate interest in research and the much longed-for technical training alongside, led him to pursue an internship in Scotland.

“At that time, I was just looking at learning the trade to set up an optics unit back home.”

However, a chance meeting with Physicist Harold Hopkins (by then, a towering name), exposed Kapany to an entire set of scientists and researchers who, like him, believed that light could bend. In fact, they were already studying ways to transmit light via malleable glass fibers. In 1952, he enrolled for post-graduate studies at Imperial College, London, and persuaded Hopkins to hire him as a research assistant.

 

So, what was new about his take?

Well, simply put, the young Kapany scored where others failed. Through a series of persistent experiments, he was able to channel light through a bundle of glass sheaths. He brought alive Hopkins’ and his own surmise that light at high-speed can indeed bend, be made to circle and even invert when diffused through a material that will not detract from its speed. In short, his efforts led to “fiber which permitted optics.” Years later, this fiber went through evolution and emerged as glass-silica.

His path-breaking experiment involved passing light through a 75-centimetre-long unit of 20,000 fiber (glass) bundles, each thinner than human hair. The revolutionary findings were published in Nature in 1954 sharing fine notes from their experiment.

 

Then, the proverbial, no looking back…:

Later that year, Kapany, presented the paper at a science seminar in Italy. Visiting faculty from American universities took note and “… a placement at the University of Rochester soon followed. One job led to another and instead of heading back to India as was the original plan, I set up my first company in Palo Alto (Silicon Valley) in 1960. The firm went public in 1967 with several corporate acquisitions and joint-ventures in the United States and abroad.” — (April 2011 interview on YouTube).

 

In scientific terms…

The modern fiber optic cables are “pipes” that carry emails or social media postings around the world in one-seventh of a second. Information is coded in a beam of light which uses optical technology to pass down the glass or plastic pipe, which in turn is made up of hundreds of glass sheaths. The entire working is based on total internal reflection. When bent through a glass slab at calculated angles, the beam will be mirrored and absorbed in entirety due to the difference in densities of different mediums. The fiber optics is a thinner-than-hair silica glass drawn to lengths.

 

So, without Kapany, what would have been different?

His relentless research made possible the “internet era.” The common picture of earth meshed in communication wires with technology driving mankind to futuristic goals owes a lot to him. Had his invention not come into being, perhaps, copper cables, signal and Morse codes and radio waves (cellphones) would still have been the faster way to transmit data.

Reel time and real time would have been far apart and a pandemic like Corona would have completely stalled progress. Correspondence, reference or download at the click of a key, tethered to high-speed cables would not have emerged. And the 1800’s scientists Colladon and Tyndall’s principles of internal reflection would perhaps have remained unharnessed to its optimal living potential.

In the medical field, fiber optic technology is used in small, compact instruments that assist physicians in robotic surgeries or internal diagnostics. Defense monitoring systems work on light images coded into electromagnetic pulses and down the fiber optic route to appear on screens located remotely. Aeronautics, oil and gas and automobile industries are all using the fiber optic cable to cater to specific technology at their end. The possibilities are endless and research is on.

 

Physicist, entrepreneur, academic, researcher… the list is endless:

To his credit, Kapany has published over 150 scientific papers, written four books on entrepreneurship and optoelectronics and taught at numerous reputable institutions in Illinois and California, including UC Berkeley and UC Santa Cruz and at Stanford. His inventions awaiting a patent outnumber 100 and this includes in diversified fields such as solar energy, geological study for seismic and wind patterns and for pollution monitoring.

 

…a philanthropist with a heart of gold:

No mention of Kapany is complete without his contribution to the Sikh community. If science were his pursuit, the hitherto neglected Sikh arts and literature were his passion. He set up the Sikh Foundation in the Bay Area in 1967 to preserve and foster the masterpieces of Sikh art and to further the essential teachings of peace and harmony of his religion. He has even constituted a scholarship to help Sikh students with funding higher studies in the US and UK.

 

To conclude:

In November 1999, Fortune magazine tagged him as one of the seven unsung heroes of the twentieth century. His contributions revolutionized living and made possible huge technological advancements. In some ways, he preceded the world of Gates and Jobs.

Had Kapany’s invention of fiber optics not come to the fore, perhaps, Microsoft and Apple would not have won with such speed as did their products. Many say the Nobel missed him and the 2009 Nobel to Charles Kao remains a debatable guess. The Indian government honored him posthumously with the 2021 Padma Vibhushan for outstanding contribution in the world of science and technology.

 

Raymond, a senior software engineering manager, had given 17 prime years of his life to the organization he last worked with. When the management started hiring people with advanced computing skills, it didn’t strike him then that something was amiss. But one day, the management called Raymond and his team of five other software engineers and asked them to leave unceremoniously.

As Raymond struggled to cope with the news, he recalled his former manager’s words when he had exhorted all of them to re-skill and re-invent themselves to fit into an increasingly tech-driven world.

 

“My programming skills are very outdated. When I look around, I see youngsters are catching up on the emerging tech skills. I have been stalling the idea of reskilling for a long time now. If only I had taken my former manager’s words seriously about learning the ropes of the latest technology, I wouldn’t be unemployed right now,” laments Raymond.

 

This may just be a case in point, but it is a sad reality that most companies face due to the gap in tech skill sets. As technology is evolving and organizations are scrambling to adopt big data, data science, machine learning, artificial intelligence (AI), internet of things (IoT) and other emerging technologies, there is an increasing need to bridge the gap between academia and industry.

 

Problem of skill-set gap amidst plenty

 

According to Gartner, in its 2018 Shifting Skills Survey, 70 percent of the current workforce are yet to master the skills required for their work. While 80 percent revealed they do not have the skills required for their current and future positions.

The tech positions that lie vacant in the US alone stand staggeringly at over half a million, a strong testimony to the skill-set gap. Several positions among them include skills in programming, app/web software development, designing, machine learning, artificial intelligence, data science, cloud computing, business intelligence, data analytics among others.

It is interesting to note that the European Commission has pointed out that about 37 percent of the workforce in Europe do not have the basic digital skills, leave alone the advanced technical skills that are required to keep up with digital technologies.

The irony, however, is that these technologies keep evolving rapidly and all businesses big and small incorporate them no sooner than the employees can upskill themselves. According to a Salesforce Research on The future of Workforce Development, 68 percent of hiring managers believe that to keep pace with such non-stop, rapid-changing tech advancements, formal retraining programs are required to prepare the workforce. Therefore, the only way professionals can keep up is by upskilling and re-inventing themselves.

 

Hard to overlook STEM education and hands-on learning

 

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Interestingly, tech organizations are calling on universities and colleges to prepare the workforce of the future by focussing on developing curriculum that are tech-focussed and hands-on rather than theory-based. This is where  STEM education plays a crucial role  and the early it is introduced in the education system, the better it is to close the skill gap. Industry leaders have come forward and stressed on the need to focus on STEM education to help fill in the STEM jobs that lie vacant.

 

“In the 21st century, scientific and technological innovations have become increasingly important as we face the benefits and challenges of both globalization and a knowledge-based economy. To succeed in this new information-based and highly technological society, students need to develop their capabilities in STEM to levels much beyond what was considered acceptable in the past.”

— National Science Foundation

 

A recent study conducted by the Mckinsey Global Institute indicated that by 2030 the amount of time employees put in on advanced technological skills will see a surge by 50 percent in the US alone, and 41 percent in Europe. The study also estimated that around the same time, the requirement for advanced IT and programming skills will increase close to 90 percent.

So, what are the most popular 21st century deep tech skills that are being sought-after by professionals to advance their career?

According to Udemy’s  2020 Workplace Learning Trends Reports  — where the online learning platform analyzed data from over 40 million users — it was found that the most popular and top emerging tech skills include programing, data science, artificial intelligence (AI), cloud computing, machine learning, web and mobile development, internet of things, quantum computing among others.

On the lines of Udemy’s learning trends reports, LinkedIn has also listed its most in-demand tech skills which include: blockchain, robotics, UX design, computer graphics, software testing, game development, scientific computing to name a few.

As automation is transforming businesses and workplaces, it has become highly imperative for the workforce of today to be able to speak the language of the tools and keep abreast of the emerging technologies.

The World economic Forum says around 133 million new jobs will be created across the globe by 2022 because of the work break-up between machines and humans. It also states that around 54 percent of the workforce will need to be reskilled remarkably by 2022.

As the Fourth Industrial Revolution — which according to salesforce, “is a fusion of advances in AI, robotics, IoT, 3D printing, genetic engineering, quantum computing, and other technologies” — is bringing about transformative changes in almost every industry and businesses, let’s focus on some of the major tech trends that are crucial to keep up with if you don’t want to run the risk of being left behind.

 

Web development:

 

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“Don’t just play on your phone. Program it. If we want America to stay on the cutting edge, we need young Americans like you to master the tools and technology that will change the way we do just about everything.”

— Barack Obama

 

The ability to code or write software/computer programs is one of the most important skills of the 21st century. It helps people to be creators of technology rather than being mere consumers. From apps to e-commerce websites to news portals, everything that we see and consume online are developed by web developers.

Coding or programming is essentially automating workflow so that you can save time, energy and efforts. You can write a code and control how the hardware will react. For instance, blink an LED for 5 seconds. The code for this can be written on the programming platform, Arduino.

 

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has projected that the demand for web developers will grow by 13 percent from 2018-2024. But to fit into the ever-growing job market, let’s look at the skills required for you to take your career forward.

As we move towards an increasingly tech-driven future, web development is forever evolving. Therefore, it is even more imperative to stay updated with the latest developments in the field, whether they are programming languages, frameworks or latest technology.

 

UX/UI design:

 

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“The best products do 2 things well: features and details. Features are what draw people to your product. Details are what keep them there.”

— Nick Babich, developer, tech enthusiast, and UX lover

 

The above quote pretty much sums up the key responsibilities of a user experience/ user interface (UX/UI) designer. Companies today are aware that for a website or app to compete in the cut-throat market, it not only requires an impeccable design along with product functionality, but also a flawless user experience customized to people’s requirements. Therefore, organizations require competent professionals to build human-centric platforms and experiences.

This has made UX design as one of the most in-demand skills and the fastest growing. LinkedIn Learning has listed UX design as one of the most sought-after skills for 2020. Let’s take a look at the skills required if you want to make a move in this field:

With top companies like Microsoft, Adobe, IBM and Adidas among others always looking out to hire UI/UX professionals, it remains one of the most in-demand sectors. As we get more comfortable with IoT and AI-based devices, the way we look at UI/UX will change completely in the future.

 

Robotics:

 

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Our grandparents/parents must have grown up watching Rosie the robot maid in the animated sitcom, The Jetsons, and wished that they had one too to do all the household chores. What was earlier a dream is now a reality for us, as robots are making our lives much easier. From cleaning floors to entertaining our children; keeping a tab on our schedules to cleaning pools; trimming lawns to carrying your stuff around, robots are here to stay.

Robots have been there as early as the mid-20th century, but it was in 1961 when Joseph F. Engelberger and George Devol came up with the Unimate, the first industrial robot — a two-tonne robotic arm, which was programmable and hydraulically driven — used for automated die-casting. Since then it has gained momentum and now it is used across industries from manufacturing to logistics; healthcare to travel.

 

 Markets and Markets report suggests that the service robotics market is expected to increase from $37 billion in 2020 to $102.5 billion by 2025; it is projected to grow at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 22.6 percent from 2020 to 2025.

Given this growth projection, the demand for professionals with the right skills are also going up. According to the Linkedin 2020 Annual Emerging Jobs report, the robotics industry reported a 40 percent annual growth rate.

So, what are the required skills for a roboticist or a robotic engineer? Here’s a lowdown:

Skilled professionals are in huge demand from top industries on the lines of industrial automation, information technology and services, computer software, automotive, financial services and those with the right skill set will be at an advantage.

 

Internet of things:

 

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“The Internet of Things is transforming the everyday physical objects that surround us into an ecosystem of information that will enrich our lives. From refrigerators to parking spaces to houses, the Internet of Things is bringing more and more things into the digital fold every day, which will likely make the Internet of Things a multi-trillion dollar industry in the near future.”

–PricewaterhouseCoopers report

 

As the IoT invades into our day-to-day lives in the form of smart watches that can monitor our health, or internet-enabled home entertainment system, or a smartphone app-connected light bulb, its presence in our lives are all-pervading.

On a bigger scale, industries and manufacturing companies continue to use IoT for maintenance and tracking, supply chain, energy consumption, shipping and logistics, regulatory compliance, smart city projects, oil and gas, retail and insurance among others.

McKinsey’s Global Institute projects that by 2025, the IoT will have an economic impact of up to $11 trillion.

And as adoption of IoT across industries grows, we have seen a huge demand from tech giants for professionals with IoT skills. Let’s get a lowdown of the most in-demand skill sets required to advance your career in this sector:

As we see the intriguing applications of IoT today, the future looks promising. With all the projections and the ongoing work, IoT will definitely make our lives much more efficient and easier.

 

Data Science:

 

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“I foresee the next wave of revenue growth in corporate America will come directly from Data Science.”

— Ken Poirot, author, entrepreneur

 

In the age of big data, data science has increasingly found its way into our lives as everything today is data driven. From healthcare to finance; media to manufacturing; logistics to sports, data science helps us make sense of the big sets of data with its incredible new insights and information.

One of the perfect examples of its application could be taken from the 2011 biopic, Moneyball. How Billy Beane (played by Brad Pitt) transformed the entire selection process just through the insights he got through data science and brought about the best winning streaks to the team.

From helping tackle traffic by optimizing routes to identifying and predicting illnesses, its applications are limitless, and as its success stories resonate with industries and companies, they are leaving no stone unturned to reap its benefits.

As government and tech giants continue to look for skilled data science professionals, the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that by 2026 the requirement for data science skills will propel a 27.9 percent increase in employment in the field.

 

“To close the gap, workforce development and higher education must look beyond the data scientist to develop talent for a variety of roles, such as data engineer, data governance and lifecycle and data privacy and security specialist, and data product developer. Data democratization impacts every career path, so academia must strive to make data literacy an option, if not a requirement, for every student in any field of study.”

–IBM in The Quant Crunch

 

However, you need certain skills for a career in data science. Let’s look at them:

Professionals in this field are required in every sector, not in technology alone. And now when sectors from healthcare to education, government to e-commerce, media to customer service are leveraging data science, the impact of AI in our lives cannot be ignored.

 

Machine learning:

 

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As the world grapples with the Covid-19 pandemic, machine learning has been invaluable to scientists all across to help track and predict the risks of the virus. If we were to look at the uses of machine learning, we would be amazed at what this futuristic tech has given us so far.

From self driving cars to medical diagnosis; practical speech recognition to face detection in an image; chatbots to predictive analysis; Siri to Alexa; effective web search to better mastery of the human genome.

Also, how do you think Netflix and Amazon suggest what to watch next? They use machine learning to understand your tastes and based on other users’ history with similar viewing patterns, recommend you accordingly.

Widespread usage of machine learning in all industries is endless. Likewise, demand for workers in this sector is only increasing by the day, as tech giants like Google, Microsoft and Amazon among others continue to look for skilled professionals. Here are some of the skills that you need to master in order to advance your career in machine learning.

According to Markets and Markets, by 2022 machine learning market is expected to reach a growth of $8.81 billion. And as top companies continue to use machine learning-driven solutions to enhance ROI or customer experience or to get an edge in their business, it will not be far when even small players will follow suit.

 

Artificial intelligence:

 

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“We see incredible opportunity to solve some of the biggest social challenges we have by combining high performance computing and AI – such as climate change and more.”

— Lisa su, Taiwanese-American business executive and electrical engineer

 

As artificial intelligence (AI) is rapidly growing beyond the tech industry, today we see that it has penetrated into education, hardware and networking, healthcare, design, consumer goods, finance, retail, wellness and fitness, real estate, energy and mining, software and IT services, manufacturing, entertainment, corporate services, transportation and logistics and beyond.

 

Gartner has predicted that by 2024, 69 percent of the managers’ routine workload will be reduced by AI and emerging technologies. However, to harness the power of AI, we require skilled professionals who are able to leverage this technology.

With top companies like Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft, IBM, Intel, Samsung, Adobe and NVIDIA to name a few always looking for AI talent, let’s look at the most in-demand AI skills:

AI might be synonymous to job automation for some, but it is also ubiquitous in our daily lives. We cannot ignore our virtual assistants Alexa or Siri or the vacuum bot, Roomba, as they help automate the little chores in our lives.

 

Cloud Computing:

 

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The  PCMag Encyclopedia  elucidates cloud computing as “hardware and software services from a provider on the internet (the “cloud”).” Think Apple iCloud or Google Cloud where you can access your pictures, documents, videos, contacts on the go. Other popular examples of cloud computing include Amazon Web Services, Dropbox, Azure, Slack etc.

As almost all companies today depend on cloud solutions for their businesses, Gartner in its 2019 forecast revealed “worldwide public cloud revenue is set to grow by 17 percent in 2020 to a total of $266.4 billion up from $227.8 billion in 2019.” And according to Markets and Markets, by 2023, the industry worth is expected to be $623.3 billion.

With widespread adoption, comes the demand for skilled cloud computing professionals. So, what are the prerequisite skills? Let’s take a look:

The market for cloud computing continues to thrive as companies are understanding its benefits and cost-effectiveness. According to Gartner, by 2021 most of the enterprises that use cloud today will be adopting an all-in cloud policy. This is indeed a good news for professionals who want to grow their career in cloud computing.

 

Blockchain:

 

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When Satoshi Nakamoto invented this technology in 2008, nobody thought that by 2020 this would be one of the most sought-after skills by tech giants like Microsoft, Amazon, IBM and Facebook to name a few.

In over a decade, this technology, which was initially conceived for the digital currency Bitcoin, has made significant headway and how. Besides being used across finance, food industries, healthcare, proponents are also using this technology as a secure and cost-effective way to track transactions and shipments, identity management, crowdfunding, digital voting, file storage among others.

A  Gartner forecast  published in 2017 indicates that by 2030 the business value of blockchain will be $3.1 trillion. Given the prediction, the demand for people with blockchain skills across the US, the UK, France, Australia and Germany has skyrocketed. But one cannot get into the field unless he/she has the following prerequisite skills:

As the likes of Walmart, Mastercard and FedEx to name a few continue to invest in blockchain, smaller companies are likely to adopt the technology and focus on solutions or develop applications that this technology can provide.

 

Quantum computing:

 

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According to Udemy’s  2020 Workplace Learning Trends Reports,  quantum computing is one of the top emerging tech skills of the 21st century. But what exactly is quantum computing? To know what quantum computing is, we need to understand quantum computers.

 

MIT Technology Review defines quantum computers as:

“A quantum computer harnesses some of the almost-mystical phenomena of quantum mechanics to deliver huge leaps forward in processing power. Quantum machines promise to outstrip even the most capable of today’s—and tomorrow’s—supercomputers…The secret to a quantum computer’s power lies in its ability to generate and manipulate quantum bits, or qubits”

 

Given quantum computer’s advanced processing powers than the conventional machines, the technology could propel new discoveries in various industries from advanced manufacturing to cybersecurity; finance to pharmaceuticals research; telecommunications to climate change; military affairs to aerospace designing; artificial intelligence to machine learning techniques to diagnose diseases and so on. Its ability to process complex and extensive datasets efficiently could transform industries.

Big companies like Microsoft, Google, IBM, Intel, HP, Airbus, Lockheed Martin, Volkswagen, Mitsubishi among others are already working and experimenting with this technology. For instance, Volkswagen has come up with a service that evaluates the best routes for taxis and buses to reduce traffic snarls. Likewise, Airbus is also using this technology to calculate the most fuel-efficient take-off and landing routes for aircraft.

Daimler AG and IBM are also working together to develop cheaper, powerful and long-lasting lithium sulfur (Li-S) batteries that would help speed-up in charging electric vehicles. Pharmaceutical companies are no less behind in leveraging this technology to create new drugs.

According to MIT Technology Review, businesses or companies working on quantum computing are facing a huge shortage of skilled professionals in the field. But the good news is that the National Quantum Initiative Act, gives the United States a plan to support research and training in quantum information science. Apart from advancing quantum technology, the initiative will help professional engineers to move forward in their careers in quantum computing

Let’s take a look at some of the essential skills required to get into this field:

Quantum computing might be at its nascent stage, but in a decade or so it will disrupt the methods used today and bring incredible solutions to unsolvable issues.

 

Conclusion:

 

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To help bridge the skill-set gap, of course, academia alone cannot play a pivotal role. Though some tech giants are still looking up at educational institutions and relying on them to train students with required tech skill sets, given the ever-evolving technologies, new roles and skill requirements, companies must also take charge and reskill the workforce. They can come up with their own courseware to reskill employees.

With online learning platforms like Coursera, Linda, Udemy among others offering specializations, certifications and professional courses, some companies are collaborating with these online platforms to help upskill their employees.

According to the World Economic Forum, by 2022 over 50 percent of all employees across industries will need to be reskilled. Given this trend, the need of the hour is shared responsibility. So, apart from academia and industry, it is also upon us to maximize our value by pursuing skills that are in demand. The world is at our fingertips, after all.

Do you think we have missed out on other important 21st century deep tech skills? Do let us know in the comments below.

– All Graphics Credit: Sidra Choudhry

 

When remote learning is the new normal during this Covid 19 pandemic, parents and teachers all across are scrambling to make do with whatever resources they have despite the challenges.

 

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Rebecca’s phone beeped when she was doing the rounds of her patients at the hospital. Finally, when she got the time to skim through her messages, she noticed one message was from her three-year-old son, Fabian’s, class teacher. It was a home assignment for the little one till the home confinement lasts.

Yes, when schools across the globe have been shut because of the Covid 19 pandemic and remote learning is the new normal, teachers/ educators/parents across the country are looking for ways to keep their students/children engaged and focussed with whatever relevant resources they have in hand. Not to mention limiting their screen time simultaneously

These are unprecedented times for all of us as we scramble to set up virtual classrooms for our children/ students and work desks for ourselves. To add to our woes, problems are plenty: From no internet connectivity to tech challenges and added workload to deal with.

For Rebecca, getting on with her son’s assignments is not a problem because it just entails identifying animals and birds or simple coloring with crayons. But everyone is not that lucky. Especially, for teachers and parents dealing with higher grades.

 

 

Everyone is fighting their own battles

“I am having a difficult time coming up with lesson plans for remote learning. Many of the students that I serve do not have the internet connection. They are not able to get online for their learning,”

says Amanda Huntley, who teachers science from grades 3-5 in Oklahoma.

“I teach biology and environmental science. But in my area students do not have devices or internet/cell connectivity. We have been asked to give them assignments every two weeks that does not require a textbook, computer or printer. I am totally bereft of ideas,”

laments Theodore Marie from Montana.

While Susan Ashley, a technology teacher in Phoenix, Arizona, complains of “tech problems and assignment upload issues”, she adds: “Sometimes the platforms are not able to handle the amount of users during peak hours.”

There are also teachers who are feeling overwhelmed with online teaching. Linda Jones, who is an English teacher in New Jersey, says:

“For a tech-challenged person like me, this entire process is so challenging and intimidating.”

When teachers are struggling with their own set of problems, students are fighting their own battle. From complaints about being swamped with assignments and deadlines from their teachers to sharing laptops with siblings or taking turns for their school work, children are no less stressed out. Some children told us that they have to sign in for their virtual classes from 8 am to 3 pm. And we talk about limiting their screen time!

 

9.4 million students without internet access

 

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However, there is an entirely different situation for students from low income households. Without the internet connection at home, education has taken a backseat. A recent Education Department statistics revealed that 14% of children, amounting to about 9.4 million, within the age group of 3-18 years, do not have access to the internet at home.

Several educators in Michigan, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Washington have come forward in saying that the digital divide has left them disadvantaged and disconnected. Though some schools have started distributing paper packets of assignments, collecting from a distribution tent can be challenging for some students.

Meanwhile, school districts are scrambling to get their acts together and ensuring that online classes continue without any glitches. In New York City, which boasts the country’s largest school district, the Department of Education (DOE) is working closely with mobile telecommunications and a technology company to provide internet-enabled devices for about 3000,000 needy students. This effort by the DOE administrators is worth the applause, especially when the NY State has taken the worst hit by Covid-19.

While in the second largest school district, Los Angeles, schools are using their emergency funds and working closely with a telecommunication conglomerate to ensure that all 600,000 students get their internet-enabled devices.

Most of the other school districts are fighting it out alone and struggling to use their existing infrastructure. Everyone seems to be working on providing solutions and easing the impact of school closures.

It’s true that several companies are turning Good Samaritans and coming forward to help parents and teachers alike in these difficult times. Most of them are offering free subscriptions for at least 3 months keeping in mind the present scenario. And yes, educators and parents are now dealing with another problem- Problem of Plenty. When every startup or big corporation is trying to add more subscribers to their platforms, the choices of what and what not become a harder one.

 

Children’s safety is paramount

 

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It is also critical that we provide our children with relevant resources that sync with or boost their core curriculum. What is more important while selecting resources for our children/students is to keep in mind the best practices for their safety and privacy. Yes, we have to be careful of online resources that collect information or data about children

A recent point in case is New York City banning teachers from using Zoom for virtual teaching citing privacy and safety concerns. There are several cities now following suit in banning Zoom for remote learning.

Similarly, we have also been flooded with messages from teachers, who want to use Mand Labs Academy, asking us whether or not we have such safety and privacy in place. As a small organization that cares, we are very strict about privacy protection and do everything “necessary” to enforce it.

To assure all our users, Mand Labs Academy was built to help children learn physics/ electronics remotely without fearing about their safety or privacy. Our program was specifically built for children/schools using Google App. We let children log in using their school/Google accounts. The only information that our system administrator sees on the backend are username (system generated), school name and user email address.

The email is the unique identifier on the system. No additional information is required or mandatory to use the platform. The user has complete control over his/her privacy settings, as he/she is able to control the information/content shared. For instance, based on what they want they can make their documents, posts, projects private/public or shown only in the user’s private group.

 

What is Mand Labs Academy?

 

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Mand Labs Academy is an interactive e-learning platform for project-based learning in electronics and physics. Learners can take our master course, work on hands-on projects, take quizzes, build their problems-solving skills, showcase their project creations to the community, network with other makers and seek technical support from our engineers.

Suited for classrooms, homeschoolers and personalized learning, it also enables educators and schools to create and manage their student groups. It is compatible with AP physics, SAT physics and IGCSE Tests.

We are enabling free-user accounts on Mand Labs Academy for teachers/parents interested in teaching/learning physics/ electronics remotely. All you have to do is register and send us a list of your students/children so that we can grant them permission from our backend to use the Grand Master Plan with access to the master course, quizzes, projects and your school’s group

We know that right now accessing Mand Labs KIT-1 for each and every student is not possible, therefore we have come up with a document containing how-to videos for creating circuit simulations. Yes, our free Electricity Tutorials for virtual classrooms are also available. It is a work in progress, as our team is working tirelessly to bring more content to you.

In conclusion, we would like to say that while we are still adjusting to this new way of teaching and learning from home, we need to ponder over the following quote that is trending over the internet.

“There is no academic emergency right now, so don’t be so quick to set-up a homeschool. Our country is in a crisis, and we are all stressed and tired. Stressed adults cannot teach stressed children. It is a neuro-biological impossibility. Try focussing on connections and feelings of safety.”

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