Computer Science Education Week – a celebration of the Ishango Bone


December 5th – 11th is Computer Science Education Week, held each year during the week of Admiral Grace Murray Hopper’s birthday (December 9th, 1906)


To bring Computer Science Education week in perspective, we can go back to what may be the very beginning and a little-known tool – at least to modern day computer scientists – known as the Ishango bone. The optimism we have as humans is rooted in our evolution – our ability as a species to learn and grow. We hear a lot today about artificial intelligence, machine learning, self-driving cars, predictive analytics and data science. We are headed for a future where machine level intelligence will surpass that of humans in the next 50 years.

In the 1950’s a geologist and professor named Jean de Heinzelin was excavating the banks of Lake Edward, in Ishango in the Congo when he found, among millions of artifacts, what has become known as the “Ishango bone.” The Ishango bone is a 10-cm long curved bone encased with quartz, likely for tattooing or engraving. Its handle has 168 parallel marks split into columns on three sides. Professor Heinzelin hypothesized that these lines represented numbers and the area has since been anointed “the cradle of mathematics.”

The Ishango bone has been estimated to be 20,000 years old. It represents the evolution of hunter-gathers in the Paleozoic era to farmers – and enabling deeper thinking and the potential birth of human mathematical cognition.

The week of December 5th represents the modern-day introduction of computer science, logic, and mathematics to the next generation. This week is dedicated to worldwide programs - from Hour of Code to #CS4All to SkypeAThon – to introduce young people to the world of computer science. There are dozens of tremendous resources to introduce teachers, students, and professionals to the world of coding and computer science.

The United States faces a shortage of STEM labor. As more industries move online, as more small businesses move to the cloud – the demand for STEM skills will continue to grow. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts a decline in US-based programming jobs through 2024, suggesting that “computer programming can be done from anywhere in the world.” However, that means that HR professionals will need to develop remote work skills in managers, companies will have to increase visa applications or offshore important work. The influence of the Ishango bone over the past 20,000 years inspires the human spirit. This small bone, carved by a fisherman in Africa changes history.

HR Professionals seeking to recruit, hire, retain and grow STEM talent over the coming decade will face an ever-increasing challenge. As many commercial operations have been moving to the web; with the rise of the robots, machine learning, scientific and medical advances increase, the demand for STEM talent will continue to grow, while the supply, particularly in the United States, is limited. HR professionals need to look at creative options to build diverse and inclusive organizations, developing creative internship opportunities, initiating recruiting from new populations, and developing innovative retention programs.  Computer Science Week offers a great opportunity for HR professionals to engage with the up and coming next generation of technologists and encourage them to explore a STEM career.

None of the amazing technology we live with today would be here without human ingenuity and a simple carved Ishango bone, and in that spirit, let’s open the door to the future by introducing our next generation to Computer Science Education Week.

This is the future of HR, and an important way to get involved in shaping the workforce of the future.

Here are some resources:


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