Computational Thinking? Its a thing…

Computational thinking is the edge you need to be competitive in business.  But what is it? Tune in to hear Jim Stroud explain what it is and explain its significance to not only business but future jobseekers as well.

TRANSCRIPT

Hi, I’m Jim Stroud and this is my podcast!

Think about a very difficult situation, no matter what it is. Maybe it’s a business issue, or some sort of personal dilemma, whatever it is, you feel frustrated because it’s just too hard to figure out. Well, maybe, just maybe, the answer to your problem is how you think about it. A problem-solving technique that is growing in popularity is something called – computational thinking. In a nutshell, it’s figuring out the answers to a problem the way a computer would. I’ll go deeper with that after this…

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Computers can be used to help solve problems. However, before a problem can be tackled, the problem itself – and the ways in which it could be solved – needs to be understood. Computational thinking helps with this. It allows us to take a complex problem, understand what the problem is and develop possible solutions. These solutions can then be presented in a way that a computer, a human, or both, can understand. At least, as described by the BBC.

Computational thinking itself is comprised of 3 steps: decomposition, abstraction and algorithmic thinking. Let me talk a bit first about decomposition. Or rather, let me quote the BBC as they describe it.

Decomposition involves breaking down a complex problem or system into smaller parts that are more manageable and easier to understand. The smaller parts can then be examined and solved, or designed individually, as they are simpler to work with.

If a problem is not decomposed, it is much harder to solve. Dealing with a complex problem is much more difficult than breaking a problem down into a number of smaller problems and solving each one, one at a time. Smaller problems are easier to understand and can be examined in more detail.

For example, suppose that a crime has been committed. Solving a crime can be a very complex problem as there are many things to consider.

A police officer would need to know the answer to a series of smaller problems:

  • what crime was committed
  • when the crime was committed
  • where the crime was committed
  • what evidence there is
  • if there were any witnesses
  • if there have recently been any similar crimes

The complex problem of the committed crime has now been broken down into simpler problems that can be examined individually, in detail. Once the individual information has been gathered and collated, the police officer may be able to solve the crime.

Step one in computational thinking is ‘decomposition.” The second step is “abstraction” which is the process of ignoring the non-essential details of a problem. From this, an idea of what is to be solved can be created. This idea is known as a ‘model’ and… Uh oh! I think I’m starting to lose some of you. Umm… let me show you an example of what I mean by abstraction.

Have you ever traveled on the New York City Subway? I have. The first few times it was intimidating because when you look at the map, its easy to be overwhelmed by all the places you could go by train and when you add bus routes to the mix, OMG! However, if I focus solely on going from Brooklyn to Manhattan, I can ignore all the other destination options on the map. Also, I don’t have to think about how many miles there are between subway stations, how many steps I must take from the train to the exit or, how deep underground the subway station is.  All that is irrelevant to my solving the problem so, I ignore all of that extra, unimportant information and focus solely on the subway route that will get me where I want to go.  Make sense? When I block out the information I don’t need and keep what I do, that’s abstraction.

Decomposition is breaking down a big problem into smaller solvable parts.

Abstraction is getting rid of the clutter and focusing on what matters.

The 3rd step in computational thinking is algorithmic thinking, which is basically creating a step-by-step action plan. If you have ever followed a recipe then, you understand how algorithms work. When following a recipe for example, at least as the original author intended, the desired outcome is expected. You beat so many eggs, add so much flour, bake for so long and badda-boom, badda-bing, something delicious comes out the oven. {See if you can find a sound effect for – Nailed it!}

Now, was my explanation of computational thinking simple enough to understand? Good! I’m glad you think so because you will have to master this way of thinking to stay competitive in business and the job market. More on that, after this.

Even if you cannot code a computer, being able to think through a problem with computational thinking will become more and more important as times progress. For example, if you are in talent acquisition, developing a candidate journey from discovering a job description all the way to hire, requires breaking it down to simple steps and putting it into algorithmic sequences that can be tracked and tweaked over time. If you are a retailer, designing a user journey requires the same type of insight. And if you are an employer, computational thinking will likely be at the core of most of your future jobs because as technology becomes more sophisticated and pervasive, you are going to need people who can routinely figure out complex problems.

And just in case you think computational thinking is just the latest buzzword floating on the internet, its not. Case in point

  • In the US, the National Research Council (a scientific think tank, created by President Woodrow Wilson), is ahead of the curve, working on CT for the past eight years.
  • The Carnegie-Mellon University has a Microsoft-sponsored Center for Computational Thinking to advance computing research and computational thinking to improve society.
  • The National University of Singapore has gone a step further and made CT compulsory, regardless of what course they are studying.

If you want to learn more about computational thinking and how it could be applied to business, maybe take an online course in it, check out ComputationalThinking.org. You’ll be glad you did.

MUSIC IN THIS PODCAST

► Music Credit: LAKEY INSPIRED Track Name: “Better Days” Music By: LAKEY INSPIRED @ https://soundcloud.com/lakeyinspired Original upload HERE – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RXLzv… Official “LAKEY INSPIRED” YouTube Channel HERE – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCOmy… License for commercial use: Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported “Share Alike” (CC BY-SA 3.0) License. Full License HERE – https://creativecommons.org/licenses/… Music promoted by NCM https://goo.gl/fh3rEJ

► Music Credit: LAKEY INSPIRED Track Name: “Blue Boi” Music By: LAKEY INSPIRED @

https://soundcloud.com/lakeyinspired Original upload HERE – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wAukv… Official “LAKEY INSPIRED” YouTube Channel HERE – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCOmy… License for commercial use: Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported “Share Alike” (CC BY-SA 3.0) License. Full License HERE – https://creativecommons.org/licenses/… Music promoted by NCM https://goo.gl/fh3rEJ