Gates, Zuckerberg team up to convince kids that coding is cool

Remember in kindergarten when your teacher shunned construction paper and scissors and set you loose on a computer armed with a dog-eared guide to Ruby on Rails? No? Neither do I.

But some of Silicon Valley’s biggest names are teaming up to encourage schools to add computer programming to their curriculum. Code.org, a new non-profit, rolled out a short film on Tuesday that features Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, will.i.am, Twitter founder Jack Dorsey, and other high-profile entrepreneurs talking about the importance of coding.

According to the nonprofit’s stats, 1.4 million computer science jobs will be open over the next 10 years and only 400,000 American graduates are expected to be qualified enough to fill them. Free educational tools are available, but Code.org is advocating for a systemic change that puts coding in the classroom.

The inspiration

Code.org’s mission isn’t just to train kids to become tech workers, says Ali Partovi, the nonprofit’s director, though the video showcases some of the perks that come with working for a tech giant (copious amounts of free food, a fun atmosphere, and video games).

Partovi says he and his brother Hadi, who founded Code.org, feel fortunate to have been exposed to computers when they were 9-year-olds. That experience led them to work in tech—Hadi as an angel investor and founder of Tellme and iLike, and Partovi as a co-founder of LinkExchange. It also gave them confidence, Partovi says.

“Any child, in their early, formative stages, if they’re exposed to computer programming, they become more creative, more confident,” he says. “If there’s something they wish they had, they can create it. That feeling of empowerment is really valuable to people, no matter what they do with their lives.”

Hadi Partovi had batted around the idea of a foundation for years, but the death of Steve Jobs in October 2011 spurred him to action.

“Suddenly there was this terrible realization that one of the most visionary figures of Silicon Valley had just passed away,” Ali Partovi says. “That moment made it clear we can’t just wait around; we should just do this.”

The next step

The video that splashed across the Internet on Tuesday was just the first step for Code.org, Partovi says. The nonprofit screened it for high school classes to test its success, and more than 50 percent of students surveyed after watching the video said they wanted to take a coding class.

One common misconception about coding, Partovi says, is that it’s only for geeks. NBA star Chris Bosh and Black Eyed Peas front man will.i.am appear in the film to emphasize that not every coder is a tech entrepreneur.

It will take years to change school curriculum and make computer programming classes taught by knowledgeable teachers a nationwide standard. While Code.org works on changing policies, Partovi says the organization is enlisting the help of expert engineers and programmers to offer advice and answer questions at after-school coding classes. To volunteer, visit Code.org.

“To be able to actually come up with an idea and then see it in your hands and press a button and have it be in millions of people’s hands, I think we’re the first generation in the world that’s really had that kind of experience,” Dropbox founder Drew Houston says in the video. “It’s the closest thing we have to a superpower.”

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