Apple isn’t the only tech giant trying to teach people how to code.
Microsoft has rolled out Code Builder for Minecraft, a new module that leverages the ultra-popular “Minecraft” gaming environment to teach kids how to program software. The beta is available to students and educators at schools, libraries, and other institutions; but it’s not unfair to presume, given the universal popularity of “Minecraft,” that Code Builder could expand to the population at large.
With Code Builder, “Minecraft” players input real code in order to control the behavior of a cute onscreen robot named “the agent.” The coding console is accessible by typing “/code,” and beginning coders can rely on snippets in order to construct a program. Code Builder is also compatible with code-teaching plugins such as Tynker.
Microsoft first announced its education version of “Minecraft” in January 2016, a year and a half after purchasing the game from its creator, Markus Persson, for $2.5 billion. Although originally conceived as a survival game, “Minecraft” developed a growing audience that uses its “creative” mode for everything from teaching demonstrations to building blocky replicas of the world’s greatest monuments.
While many tech companies offer educational products and pricing (for example, Google has education editions of its products), a few have dipped a toe into actually teaching coding to kids. Last year, for example, Apple launched Swift Playgrounds, an iOS app that offers lessons in coding via cartoon characters moving through a fantastical environment (covered topics include commands, functions, loops, parameters, and conditional code).
Teaching legions of kids to code, of course, comes with its own benefits for a tech firm. Students who learn Swift may bond to the iOS platform from an early age, and spend a lifetime generating iOS apps (or at least using Apple products). In a similar fashion, making Minecraft an educational platform helps keep kids within the Microsoft ecosystem.
For those not in school who nonetheless want to learn how to code, platforms such as Minecraft and Swift Playgrounds (along with websites such as Code.org) give ample opportunity to program.