When you think about hackathons and coders building something quick and dirty, you might envision a dark dorm room at Harvard filled with pizza boxes and empty Red Bull cans. That’s because the only window into this scene that the world has, outside of San Francisco and New York City, was the movie “The Social Network.” A non-profit organization called Code.org, founded by brothers Hadi Partovi and Ali Partovi, has launched today to change the perception of all of this, with the goal of making computer science and programming accessible for everyone. When I say everyone, I don’t mean everyone who wants to code. I really mean everyone.
I spoke to Hadi yesterday about where he thinks the massive gaps in learning how to code came from and what we can do as a society to fill them. He told me “It’s a challenge that our country needs to face.” Some of these gaps are because schools don’t treat computer science the way it should, and they don’t recognize coding as an essential skill, like reading and writing is. Partovi has taken this on as his personal goal, as well as the goal of Code.org.
Partovi has some amazing experience in the field, having been on the founding teams of iLike and Tellme, as well as investing in and advising companies like Facebook, Dropbox and Airbnb.
Having studied this myself and living in this industry, I’ve received the fruits of one of the best things to study and the world is being turned on its head because of software. Jobs are growing, industries are being turned upside down and our school system is acting in the opposite direction. It’s difficult to convince someone who is going for one of the highest paying jobs in the world to take one of the lowest.
Yes, working for a startup might not be the biggest money-maker and this has something to do with college students going down a separate path. However, if everyone was able to code just a little bit, imagine all of the great ideas that might just get off the ground simply because the person who came up with it didn’t have to wonder how to get started.
As we dug around a bit about Partovi’s undertaking, we learned that since Mark Zuckerberg is someone people aspire to be, at least when it comes to building something that you’re passionate about and following through on it, he may be participating in a short video for Code.org. Along with Zuckerberg, we’ve learned from a source that Bill Gates will also participate. The goal of this video will be to show kids that computer programming is a great thing to learn, and more fun than they think. This isn’t something reserved for the “super smart kids” in their parents’ basement.
Putting together this short film, we’re told, is Lesley Chilcott, a part of the Code.org team who produced “An Inconvenient Truth” and “Waiting For Superman.”
The video itself will be available to over 500K classrooms, thanks to a deal the team is working on. Will the teachers play it? That’s a separate question. And it’s also a call to action for all of you. If you know any teachers or parents of students who would be interested in what Code.org is doing, please send it along to them.
Truth In Numbers
According to Partovi, there are roughly 1.4 million jobs in computing areas, and there’s only 400K computer science graduates coming out of college over the same period of time. The quick math tells you that there’s a gap of roughly 1 million jobs. That means that there is an absolute need for computer professionals, and learning how to code is indeed an essential life skill. Partovi says:
You don’t need to raise taxes or cut spending, just educate students so that you don’t have to ship these types of jobs overseas.
Playing a little bit more with numbers, Partovi and I discussed all of the potential jobs surrounding the ecosystem of startups and technology companies. Think about it, there are bars, restaurants and other opportunities that are made possible by a strong startup culture. Companies like Justin Kan’s Exec exists because there is a surplus of busy professionals in San Francisco that need his service.
So we have more than a million available jobs. It’s a big deal for the country to solve this problem, but I also believe that this is a big deal, and believe in my heart, that every student should learn the basics of computer programming.
You don’t have to want to be a coder just to learn a few lines of very basic scripting and development. There are other professions that should have a working understanding of the Internet and applications that people use on a daily basis. There are doctors and lawyers who don’t understand what the cloud is, or where their documents are even stored. Partovi tells me that even farmers should have a basic understanding of computer science, because you never know where the next big great idea could lead this country, and the world.
As our conversation continued, I could hear the urgency and true passion in Partovi’s voice:
This is a national issue. This is our country’s sputnik moment, a call to action. How do we prepare our kids? Our education system hasn’t changed in 150 years, nothing has been added to it. This could be the most important thing we could be adding.
What Code.org is doing right now is building a database of every single current classroom that teaches any type of programming. This could be a high school class, college course or weekend camp for kids. You can go to the site right now to participate, and if Partovi has his way, Code.org will build the biggest database in the world for something like this, of which there aren’t many to speak of right now.
An 11-year-old hispanic girl in public school can learn this. Also, you never see an image of three 12-year-old girls sitting around a computer, programming. This needs to change.
Services like Codecademy are trying to help tackle this problem, too, and it’s a great way to dip your toe in the water, or even send to a friend to try and get them involved.
Technology has opened up so many doors for so many people, and the barrier to entry is almost non-existent. All you need is a computer and an Internet connection and you can start to learn immediately. The next “Mark Zuckerberg” might be someone that Zuck looks up to and respects himself.