Reality TV and podcast star Jack Osbourne recently said that if one of his kids said they wanted to go to school to be a coder, he would tell them not to and instead to “learn to be a carpenter or a tiler or a framer or something if you want to be creative because AI can’t do that.” 

This is awful advice.

First, in terms of a career, programming pays significantly more than construction trades. In 2021, according to U.S. News & World Report, the median income for a construction worker was $37,700, while software developers had a median income of $120,730. While some construction jobs pay higher (as do some specialties in computing), the average lifetime earning difference is significant. Of course, if you love to build or code, this can also be an essential factor in quality of life — another reason discouraging a kid who wants to go into programming is unwise.

Second, Osbourne appears to hold a potentially common misconception that generative AI tools will put programmers out of work. This isn’t likely the case. Like all other technological advancements, it may change how people work and eliminate some jobs; however, it won’t remove the need for people to design and build software systems. If anything, making basic system design more generally accessible may increase the need for people who understand how they are implemented at a low level, know how to develop the logical frameworks behind systems, secure them, and troubleshoot them when they break. 

AI is likely to increase the number of jobs in computing, not reduce them. Also, increasing the productivity of programmer employees will likely increase the value they produce and their wage levels.

Third, it is precisely because of the growth in the use and utility of computer technologies, like AI, that a child who starts learning programming today has the potential to affect any area of society they want. 

AI is helping to find missing children; taking drive-through orders; helping the paralyzed regain mobility; enhancing dentistry and medicine; finding cures for diseases; developing life-saving drugsdetecting cancer and dementia earlier; preventing veteran suicidescyberbullying and the sextortion of youth; preventing cyberattacks and terrorism; and protecting critical infrastructure. It also helps educate — including in programming — and is poised to “transform” and increase the safety of the construction industry.

In all these areas, individuals with skills in coding are going to be needed — whether they’re developing software entirely by hand or with the help of an AI tool. The creativity aspect is where humans — aided by AI — will have the potential to contribute the most. It will enhance humans’ ability to build creative products, not replace them. It will open the door to user-involved creation — however, this won’t remove the need for professional software developers — whether making games, phone apps, or developing the next AI technology.

Perhaps the most troubling thing about Osbourne’s comments is that they may turn away those without programming experience, preventing youth from discovering that they enjoy computer science. Despite significant efforts, there is still substantial ethnic and gender participation disparity in the field and the high-paying jobs it provides. Incorrect information regarding the opportunities in the industry may discourage its exploration by members of groups with lower historical participation levels.

AI is poised to create significant societal benefits, and programmers are essential to delivering them. All youth would be well served to learn some basic programming skills to see if they may enjoy a career in this field and gain an understanding of how the technology that powers virtually every aspect of our everyday lives works.