D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray (D) joins Kojo, Tom Sherwood and Mike DeBonis in the studio.
It’s an essential job requirement for many positions in today’s tech sector: coding. But a lot of experienced workers are nervous about developing new skills, and few public education systems have incorporated coding into vocational training for younger students. We chat with a group of entrepreneurs who are trying to train a new generation of programmers, and equip older workers with skills for today’s job market.
- Ryan Seashore Founder, CodeNow
- Rosalyn Lemieux Partner, Fission Strategy
- Zach Sims Co-Founder, Codeacademy
- Jeff Casimir Owner, Jumpstart Lab; Hungry Academy
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. It's Tech Tuesday. You've probably got a friend or two who's pledged that 2012 will be the year they finally learn Spanish or train for a marathon. But hundreds of thousands of people across the country have made a different resolution, that this will be the year they finally learn to code.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIComputer programming isn't just a skill for hackers and the computer obsessed. It's a prerequisite for many of the creative jobs behind an increasingly important sector of the American economy, a skill set that some tech entrepreneurs are desperate to do better or to better incorporate into the American education system and an asset that many mid-career employees are eager to add to their resumes so that they can kick down the door to where the jobs are.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIJoining us to explore a new generation of American programmers, to explore how a new generation of American programmers can learn the craft and how experienced workers can benefit from going to hacker school is Jeff Casimir. He is the owner of JumpstartLab, which trains developers in Washington. He also leads instruction at Hungry Academy. That's a training program run in conjunction with the online coupon business LivingSocial. Jeff Casimir, thank you for joining us.
MR. JEFF CASIMIRThanks for having me.
NNAMDIAlso with us in studio is Rosalyn Lemieux. Ros (sp?) Lemieux is a partner at Fission Strategy. That's a company that helps social causes use social media. She's an instructor with the program CodeNow. Ros Lemieux, thank you for joining us.
MS. ROSALYN LEMIEUXHi. Thanks for having me.
NNAMDIJoining us from studios in San Francisco is Zach Sims, co-founder of Codeacademy, the force behind Code Year, a free year-long course offering online lessons to those who want to learn computer programming. Zach Sims, thank you for joining us.
MR. ZACH SIMSThanks for having me.
NNAMDIAnd with Zach in that studio in San Francisco is Ryan Seashore, founder of CodeNow, a nonprofit focused on training students and young people to learn coding. Ryan Seashore, thank you for joining us.
MR. RYAN SEASHOREThank you for having me.
NNAMDIIf you'd like to join the conversation, you can call us at 800-433-8850. Have you ever tried to learn computer programming? Where did you pick up the skill, or where did you get frustrated and decide to stop? 800-433-8850. You can send us email to firstname.lastname@example.org, a tweet, @kojoshow, or simply go to our website, kojoshow.org. Join the conversation there. Zach, I'll start with you. It's like the whole world woke up this year and decided to learn how to hack.
NNAMDIHundreds of thousands of people have signed up to learn how to program computers for free with you this year, including Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of New York City. But the buzz about Codeacademy has also started a nationwide conversation about the value of the skills needed to code. What exactly are you doing with Code Year, and why did you feel it was necessary to do it?
SIMSSure. I think you mentioned a lot of the key points that, you know, we started Code Year for. We think that coding is -- the new literacy is a phrase, you know, that a lot of us use. And then knowing coding is a skill that will help you get a job, help you improve how you're doing your existing job. And we thought that 2012 was really going to be the first year that people realize this. So Code Year is a demonstration of that and a way for people to get started learning to code in small-bite size chunks and building up to actually learning how to really build things.
NNAMDIBefore we go any further, all of you work in the tech space in one form or another. Do you all know how to code? And if so, where did you develop those skills? I'll start with you, Ryan Seashore, for no particular reason.
SEASHORESure. Actually, I do not how to code. I'm learning at...
NNAMDIThat was the no particular reason I started with you for.
NNAMDIBut go ahead.
SEASHOREAnd that's part of the reason why I started code now, is it's this -- coding is this world where there's a lot of barriers, and a lot of students, especially those from under-represented communities, don't know how to overcome those barriers. So in my quest to learn to code, I thought it was just as important to help other students as well.
NNAMDIHow about you, Jeff Casimir?
CASIMIRI started programming when I was in college, so been about 10 years now.
NNAMDIYou've been a teacher...
NNAMDI...in D.C. Public Schools. We'll talk about that later. How about you, Ros Lemieux?
LEMIEUXDepends how you define coding. My first coding experience was actually after school in fourth grade. My dad bought me a book called "BASIC for Kids," and I learned how to program in BASIC, which is barely a programming language. But it was a lot of fun for me as a kid. And then, really, my first job in D.C. at a women's advocacy organization, I really started to pick up PHP and MySQL and get to be a more serious coder.
NNAMDIHow about you, Zach?
SIMSI've been learning to code for a while also, so I'd say I'm semi-proficient. But we started Codeacademy because part of my struggles learning to code -- and my co-founder, Ryan, has been coding since he was 12 and wanted a better way to teach people.
NNAMDILet's stick with the basics for just a minute because learning this stuff is a lot like learning another language or a family of different languages. People code in Java, Ruby, Rails, Python. When you talk about getting people started from square one, where is a good place to start, and what languages are the most valuable to be conversant in? Starting with you, Jeff.
CASIMIRYou know, Kojo, I think, when people start getting interested in programming and learning a programming language, it's a lot like when you start learning a foreign language in middle school or high school, where what you find is that the hardest thing is actually understanding your native language that we, you know, in the U.S., generally grew up learning English. And you don't learn a lot of formal rules. You just kind of start talking.
CASIMIRWhen you want to learn Spanish and you want to learn French, you have to start understanding all the nouns, the verbs, the, you know, prepositions, all the pieces that make up language. And what you find is that same process has to happen when you learn a programming language, where which one you learn -- you know, you mentioned Ruby and Python, Java -- it doesn't actually matter that much.
CASIMIRThe challenge is at the beginning, starting to understand how you break down these languages, these logical problems into their component pieces. If you can start to understand those fundamental concepts, then they translate between all the different languages relatively easily.
NNAMDIAnd if you're father didn't start you off in fourth grade, how would you recommend learning, Ros?
LEMIEUXI think a great place, especially with adults, to start is finding a problem they want to solve in their own world. For me, that was -- you know, I was very interested in sort of social justice and social causes from a young age, and I found that having just a little bit of technical skill allowed me to contribute in ways that other people couldn't. So, you know, prior to starting Fission, I ran for one year the New Organizing Institute, which is a training institute for progressive campaigners, issue causes and also candidate campaigns.
LEMIEUXAnd it was -- it's not hard to get that set of folks who take the time to learn how to do something because they have the end goal in mind, so they're motivated.
NNAMDIRyan, what did you find as a good place to start?
SEASHOREWell, right now, online tools like Codeacademy, TryRuby, Hackety Hack are just great resource to get people introduced. And then there's other programs in local cities that if you want to take it further, like Codeacademy -- they have boot camp -- are a great -- I've also found picking up books by Chris Pine and just online tutorials, like Jeff Casimir's curriculum, Ruby in 100 Minutes are just great ways to just introduce -- get introduced.
NNAMDIZach Sims, if I sign up with Code Year, what skills do I have -- or need to have in order to start?
SIMSYou need basically nothing to get started. We wanted people to be able start from square one. And we start teaching them Java Script, but I agree with a lot of what's been said, is that, you know, the language sometimes is irrelevant. It's just learning the concepts that's most important.
NNAMDIIt's fair to say that pretty much everything in the digital world is commanded by lines of code and that we're talking about mastering those languages you use to write that code that tells a computer what to do, right, Zach?
NNAMDIOK. Is the foreign language analogy a good one? Are people basically committing themselves to a Rosetta Stone kind of program for hacking, Jeff?
CASIMIRI think so, especially when you look at it as a sense -- you are not going to cross a finish line where you say I know computer programming. You can get started. You can get proficient enough to do some of the things, like Ros was talking about, build some of the tools that you want to see, you know, help make some of the change you want to see in the world.
CASIMIRAnd then you can spend the rest of your life trying to get better at it, whether it's, you know, the tenets of the specific language you're looking at or just the bigger picture of things of how do we architect software in a way that it can scale up and handle lots of transactions or can be internationalized easily around the world. Those kinds of challenges take years, and maybe even decades, to really conquer.
NNAMDIIn case you're just joining us, it's a Tech Tuesday conversation about how to code, a conversation you can join by simply sending us a tweet at #TechTuesday. Where do you think computer programming skills should fit into the basic curriculum in the American education system? You can also call us at 800-433-8850. What skills do you wish you were equipped with in your professional field?
NNAMDIDo you ever fantasize about retraining yourself to learn how to write computer code? 800-433-8850. You can also send email to email@example.com, or simply go to our website, kojoshow.org. Join the conversation there. Jeff, you're coming at this from the perspective, as I said earlier, of an educator. You spent the early part of your career as a teacher in public schools, in charter schools in Washington, D.C. How did those experiences shape your perspective for what young people were learning and whether or not they were being prepared to eventually take on jobs in this field?
CASIMIRSure. The most important thing that I saw when I taught -- I taught high school at the Cesar Chavez Public Charter School and taught computer science to juniors and seniors, and kids did not have the option of taking my class. They were put in the class. And that was something, at first, I was hesitant about and actually became one of my favorite things about it because it's an opportunity for kids that think they're not good at some things. You know, by the time you're a junior, you've already decided, oh, I'm good at English. I'm bad at math. I'm great at science, whatever.
CASIMIRThey come into computer science. Some of them would get a little afraid of the word science, but most of them came in with no expectations and kind of no prejudgments about how they were going to do. And so they would just come in and give it a shot. And what you find is that it's really not that hard. There's so much we can do in programming with just a little bit of skill that, all of a sudden, they start building confidence. They're like, oh, I can build this thing. Oh, I can build that other thing. Oh, let me learn a little bit more.
NNAMDISo were they getting, when they came to your class, enough out of their core curriculum already that they were equipped to learn what you were teaching them about computer science by the time they got to your classroom?
CASIMIRI think they were. You know, it doesn't take a lot. There's this perception that computer science requires, you know, three years of advanced calculus. And that's true for a very small subset of programming. If you want to write the next great Xbox game from scratch, then, yes, you're going to need a lot of advanced mathematics to handle the 3-D geometry and so forth. But 99 percent of the problems we want to solve with technology, you really don't need that much. You need to be able to read. You need to be able to count. You need to be able to write and...
NNAMDIRos, what do you say? Do you agree?
LEMIEUXI agree with that. And, you know, just to go back to an earlier question, earlier point you raised when you were asking about what was coding, you know, just learning to write some lines of code to talk to a computer, one of the things that I really like about CodeNow, about Ryan's program and about how Jeff teaches is they also often, particularly with young people, will introduce a little bit of electronics, a little bit of, you know, playing with Arduinos, those tiny, you know, little -- a way to parallel electronic devices and robots and things that kids find fun.
LEMIEUXAnd I think one of the things that's happening is that, you know, as electronics get cheaper and smaller, there's a big opportunity if you know just a little bit about how they work. Similar to knowing just a little bit of programming, you have access to do and build things that are very powerful and that only big corporations could have imagined and built, you know, just a decade ago.
NNAMDIAllow me to go to the telephones. Here is David in Bethesda, Md. David, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DAVIDYeah. Hi. Thanks for taking my call. Appreciate and love the show. I've got three fifth graders that I want to introduce to programming. You guys mentioned the robotics language. We did take a leg on the programming class, and I was delighted to find how well they took to learning that visual block programming, the whole idea of logic. I wanted to see what your caller experts think about introducing some 10-year-olds to programming. What do you think the best approach is?
NNAMDIRyan, your organization, CodeNow, is taking programming back into the classroom in the District. Can you offer David a response? Tell him what you're trying to do?
SEASHORESure. So a couple of programs that I -- we've used that we found works really well is one -- Scratch, it's a program developed by MIT, which teaches programming in a module-based language. It's very easy. It's geared towards elementary school, and it's a great way to introduce students. Another program we use is Hackety Hack, which is also a way to teach students. And it's visual. It's fun. But it can get a little more complex quickly.
SEASHOREAnd then another program is Zach's, which I haven't -- I don't know how kids take to, but it seems like it's simple enough. It's badge-based, that it would also be very attractive, and they can access it from any computer without having to download software. So I think there is multiple options out there.
NNAMDIZach, how are kids taking to your program?
SIMSSure, we get parents all the time who send us emails. I think, you know, they're parents with kids who are around 10 and older who have been using the site, and we try to make it really simple, at least starting out. And as Ryan mentioned, we give badges out as well to incentivize people to progress through things. So I think you can definitely start learning with Codeacademy.
NNAMDIDavid, well, allow me to ask Jeff this. From the perspective of a teacher, Jeff, where do you find that most computer science teachers or most computer science courses go wrong as far as how they make the subject understandable or relatable?
CASIMIRIt's tricky because -- particularly with kids, they all want to come in and build video games, you know? And so, as I mentioned, like, one of the things I like to tell kids is, when you look at those games, to produce one of them takes hundreds of people several years. So as one person, you're walking into a big challenge if you're going to try and do that on your own. It's very realistic, though, that you can build small things right away.
CASIMIRAnd the process of learning is really about confidence building. That's where, I think, Zach and Codeacademy are really going right, is that you can start experimenting and you can get feedback right away. It'll tell you, you know, you're doing things correctly, keep going. It's a lot of encouragement. Generally, when people teach, when they struggle teaching, it's because they're trying to take too big of leaps.
CASIMIRIt's too much of, oh, just believe me, put this -- just believe me, put that and -- without really understanding what you're doing. I like how Codeacademy just breaks it up into really small steps, get that constant validation.
DAVIDCan I add a comment, please?
NNAMDIRos, you have signed up with Ryan as an instructor at CodeNow. Why did you sign up for this?
LEMIEUXJust to volunteer. So, basically, I've just been helping out with the program because I'm a huge supporter. I feel like I locked into something in my life that has opened a lot of doors that's allowed me to, you know, work from anywhere and do well financially and work -- do things that I've really enjoyed and start a company, frankly, that -- you know, that employs some people in a down economy.
LEMIEUXSo, you know, I would just like to see markets have that opportunity, and it kind of kills me that it's left to chance. I think this is a place where, you know, it's a tragedy in me that this isn't more a core part of public education, that, you know, kids have to go seek out something like Codeacademy or CodeNow. There should be no question that you walk out of high school with these skills. They're not -- just not that hard.
NNAMDIGoing to take a short break. When we come back, we'll have Ryan tell us a little bit more about CodeNow and exactly what it is. David, thank you very much for your call. Hopefully, your fifth graders will get some advice that they can use here. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue our conversation about learning to code. But you can still call us at 800-433-8850. Have you ever picked up a skill like coding mid-career?
NNAMDIHow did you do it? And what advice would you give to other people trying to do the same thing? Send us a tweet at #TechTuesday, email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or go to our website, kojoshow.org. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIIt's Tech Tuesday, and we're talking about learning to code with Ryan Seashore. He is the founder of CodeNow, a non-profit focused on training students and young people to learn coding. He joins us from studios in San Francisco along with Zach Sims, co-founder of Codeacademy, the force behind Code Year, a free year-long course offering online lessons to those who want to learn computer programming. Ros Lemieux is a partner at Fission Strategy that helps social causes use social media.
NNAMDIShe is also an instructor with the program CodeNow. And Jeff Casimir is the owner of Jumpstart Lab, which trains developers in Washington. He also leads instruction at Hungry Academy, a training program run in conjunction with the online coupon business LivingSocial. Ryan Seashore, I said we'd talk a little bit about exactly what CodeNow is and does. Could you tell us?
SEASHORESure. So CodeNow works with underrepresented high schools students aged 15 to 18 to introduce them to programming. We want to get kids exciting -- excited about what it is to program. As Jeff mentioned, they enter with very low expectations. Most of them have decided whether they like math or sciences more before they even get into the classroom. But computer programming is this gray area where they haven't decided if it's uncool or not. So it's this tremendous opportunity to inspire them to learn, and that's what we really try to do through hands-on, project-based learning.
SEASHOREWe start with the weekend training where we use a tool called Hackety Hack. And by the end of the first day, they're building projects like a guessing game. The second day, we use Lego Mindstorms, which teach critical thinking, problem solving and teamwork. But it also shatters their perception of what programming is because it takes it away from the terminal and puts it -- makes it hands-on. And so that's the first weekend. Then we give students a project to work on on their own, just homework.
SEASHOREAnd the third part is our boot camp, which we bring together all the students that have attended the weekend training and put them through a four-day intensive in Ruby with a curriculum that's designed by Jeff in Jumpstart Lab. And by the time they leave -- left our first boot camp, they were building encryption engines. They had a good understanding of what it is to program. And they also decided whether they liked it or not, which is really important, is for them to see if this is a career path that they want to take.
SEASHOREThe fourth part of our program is each student that completes the boot camp receives a netbook because we find it's really important to give them not only the skills but also the tools to continue learning. And the fifth part of our program is our alumni community where we help with monthly meet-ups, mentoring, internships, and we just really train -- keep the students engaged if they wish.
NNAMDIOn to Ethel on Gainesville, Va. Ethel, your turn.
ETHELWell, I'm over 60, and I know that you're focusing on the young people. But how does an old person like me who's interested in programming use it to help the world?
NNAMDIEthel, you and Michael Bloomsberg (sic) -- Michael Bloomberg, both -- Zach, I bet a fair amount of people at Code Year are coming to the program, like Ethel, as more experienced workers. Somebody like Mike Bloomberg, he's not exactly a high school student anymore. How do you go about creating a curriculum with people picking up this stuff later in life in mind?
SIMSSure. I think where the basics are uniform, you know, across -- everyone wants to learn programming, and the start is similar for a lot of people. So we start in the same place for younger people and people that are more experienced in the workforce as well. I think it's only when you get towards really understanding how to build basic things that you yourself can make the decision as to how you're going to use it and then what you need to learn in order to accomplish your goals as, I think, Ros said earlier.
SIMSYou need to pick a project that you want to work on and sort of figure out why you're learning to program, and that's what reflects what you should be learning later on as well.
ETHELOK. So how do I…
NNAMDII was about to say, Ethel, I know, has a project in mind.
ETHELYes. I do have a project in mind. So how do I get started? Who do I call?
NNAMDIWell, not Ghostbusters, but...
NNAMDI...who does Ethel call, Jeff Casimir?
CASIMIRYeah. So you first have to ask the question of are you going to realistically build it yourself or are you trying to answer the question how hard is this thing to build? One, maybe, mistake that I see people go down is they want to build a business, so they want to create some kind of change. And so they're going to learn to program. And that might not be the right choice for you. It might make better, you know, economic sense to hire someone to do it.
CASIMIRBut I really think that Zach's program with Codeacademy is one of the best ways that you can get that first taste and figure out, is this something that I want to do? I don't think, you know, a person who's been through some careers and jobs -- I presume, in your life, you're not at a significant disadvantage. Like, you know how to tackle hard problems. You know how to deal with frustration, and those are really the core skills of programming.
NNAMDIEthel, thank you very much for your call. Good luck to you. We move on to Camsie who is apparently with District of Columbia public schools. Camsie, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MS. CAMSIE MCADAMSHi. Nice to meet -- nice to talk to everybody. I know Ryan, but I don't know the rest of everybody. I'm the STEM director for D.C. Public Schools. And before working in D.C. at the public school level, I was at the National Science Foundation with, you know, computer science education initiative. And we're really interested in harnessing the D.C. tech community and supporters like Ryan in trying to introduce computer science in the D.C. Public Schools, especially in the middle school and high school level.
MS. CAMSIE MCADAMSI'm familiar with Scratch. I wasn't familiar with the couple of the other programs that you've talked about, but I'm just interested to hear what --from the local folks on the phone, how they think they could help us support computer science development as a curriculum and as an after-school option for the D.C. Public School students?
SEASHOREI think it's just finding a way to work with the schools and create a program where there's resources that will allow it to grow. I'm actually talking to members from city hall about creating a joint program with the summer internship program. But I think it would be finding way to work within the school systems, so there is that -- the support. The biggest hindrance to working within the school systems right now is finding the talented instructors.
SEASHORESo, right now, all of our training is volunteer-based with programmers who all have full-time jobs. So it's finding maybe an after-school program or a Saturday-school program where we could integrate it. It's just kind of creating a larger conversation of how we can make it fit with everyone's need.
NNAMDICamsie, thank you very much for your call. But it does raise the question that I'll put to our listeners. What concerns do you have about whether or not the educational system in the United States is preparing students adequately for careers in fields where job are like technology? Should students be given more opportunities, how to code or to learn how to code? What do you feel about that? Call us at 800-433-8850, or send email to email@example.com. Camsie, did you have another question?
CAMSIENo. Thank you very much. And I just encourage any listeners who want to get involved in D.C. public schools and support, you know, college and career readiness to go ahead and check us out. We're open doors, and we'd love to -- happy to help.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Camsie. This email we got from Sarah for all of you, but I'll start with you Ros. Sarah says, "As someone who learned assembly language programming back in the days of punched card input to mainframe computers, I think programming skills are essential but rapidly dated. How many COBOL programmers developed skills and other languages and moved on?
NNAMDI"I love programming in assembly language because I understood how it was actually stored and used in computers, but obviously became impractical years ago. Perhaps some of the newer languages are good for teaching. I have an acquaintance who's trying to make programming and computers and games that are more engaging for girls. Though girls and boys both have interests on overlapping bell curves, there is evidence that the really violent action games that appeal to many boys are less appealing or engaging for many girls."
NNAMDIRos, computer programming can often come off like a kind of boys' club. The New Yorker profiler Facebook Sheryl Sandberg last year pointed out that in movies like "The Social Network," the boys do the hacking while the women run around in their underwear. What kind of response do you get from girls and young women in the work that you do?
LEMIEUXLet's see. What kind of response? I'm not quite sure how to answer that what kind of response question, but I think...
NNAMDIWhat causes them to be interested?
LEMIEUXWell, I mean, there are still definitely fewer girls and women involved. I can say from certainly the other side of the hump, when you do become involved in programming and part of, you know, "tech community," there's a huge amount of opportunity. You know, my business is woman-owned. My business partner is also a woman. And, you know, a lot of people are happy to -- you know, a lot of our clients are happy to work with a woman on technology business.
LEMIEUXThere's government contracts that are especially open to woman-owned technology businesses. Engineering schools actively recruit young women. So I think the challenge is with the girls at a fairly young age. They're writing it off. But, you know, those women who do end up stepping into this career have a huge amount of opportunities available to them, you know, even just being able to speak and be part of sort of public-facing community of folks in technology.
LEMIEUXYou know, I have opportunities because I'm a woman. So, you know, if you can get girls past that hump, where they do get involved, there's an incredible...
NNAMDII'd like to bring our other panelists in on that. But first, here is Cheryl in Bethesda, Md., who has a similar concern. Charlotte, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CHARLOTTEHi. I'm a college student right now at a women's college. But I remember when I was in high school, I was, a lot of times, the only girl in computer sciences classes. And so I was basically calling to ask about what people -- how people think we can change that and what causes...
NNAMDILet me start with you, Jeff Casimir. What's been your experience working in schools?
CASIMIRIt's interesting. This is an issue, you know, that's very much at the forefront of the community. If you look at kind of the startup world, small technology world, developers are maybe one in 10 women, probably fewer than that. And most of the developers who are women I see are in their 40s or older, that there are almost no women developers 20 to 40. And why is that, right? It has to be a very complicated reason.
CASIMIRI think there is some of the sociological argumentative girls, you know, probably get steered away consciously or subconsciously from math and science. I think there is some argument about the lifestyle that startups advocate of the -- you know, we stack beer cans, and we work till 3 a.m. That's generally not inviting to a lot of women. But it has to be a problem. You know, I think most of the community -- a few years ago, maybe people didn't all think it was a problem.
CASIMIRBut now, the consensus are building that we have to do something about this, and you're starting to see more and more organizations do advocacy and kind of organization of women and technology. So there is organizations like Women Who Tech here in D.C., Girl Develop It, She's Geeky, et cetera, that try and get together women and kind of -- you know, it's not a support group exactly, but it's trying to incubate what's a small and underrepresented community.
NNAMDIRyan Seashore, what's been your experience with CodeNow? Are a lot of women showing up?
SEASHORESo, of our 24 students that attended our boot camp, 10 of them were girls. And we made a real conscious effort to recruit and engage girls, and it's just making sure that you're not creating barriers before they enter the program. So you don't want to gear the materials to recruit them or the verbiage or just -- where you're recruiting just towards boys. It's just being open and letting them know that this is a world that they can get into and just really almost selling it to them as a new possibility.
NNAMDIHow about you, Zach? What do you say?
SIMSWe made an effort to work with organizations that were mentioned earlier. So we worked with Girl Develop It, for instance, Women Who Code and a few other organizations to really bring more women into the fold. And I think, you know, we've been fortunate so far that by putting it online makes it really easy for anyone to access it. So there's no peer pressure issues or no issues with being the only person in a class, you know, who's doing something, whereas with us, you know, you can do it in the comfort of your home.
SIMSSo I think women, finally, are starting to take to programming more, which is super exciting, and we're going to do everything we can do extend, you know, availability to anyone and everyone.
NNAMDIWho said it's a no-brainer? Recruit girls, guys will show up. Anyway, Zach, when you and your partner set out to create a curriculum for Code Year, where did you start?
SIMSSure. We reviewed a lot of the curriculum that was available and a lot of the lessons that we had already created on the site. You know, we've had hundreds of thousands of people who have been through a lot of our lessons and given us a lot of really valuable feedback on what's right, what's wrong, what they're learning and what they're not learning. So we sort of put that together with really great efforts that we've seen to create a solid introductory computer science curriculum before and matched those two together to create something that was uniquely ours but true on, you know, what existed beforehand.
NNAMDIOn to the phones again. Here is Leshell in Washington, D.C. Leshell, your turn.
MS. LESHELL HATLEYGood afternoon, everyone. Thanks for having me. I am excited about joining the conversation, and I can probably add a comment to probably the last two or three topics. I am the executive director of an organization called Uplift, Inc. Our website is upliftdc.org, and we have after-school programs that teach app development, robotics, game design and animation with a computer science or computer programming thread that runs through all of them.
MS. LESHELL HATLEYWe work with schools, and we also have a 100-square-foot lab where students come to us after school. So we -- excuse me, we -- we're open to a partnership with schools, D.C. public, charter schools, private schools, et cetera. But we also have a space where students can come during the weekends, et cetera. If they're new or new to programming or already have experience, we kind of provide space in nurturing -- to hone skills and improve them.
MS. LESHELL HATLEYSo you're -- anyone who's listening is welcome to call us or contact us for more information. In terms of girls in technology or girls in computer science, I think I have -- I come from a -- I guess I have a unique perspective in that I walk in -- and I am an African-American woman -- and I'm, from minute one, preparing them to learn how to code. So if they see me, it's like this subconscious, I can do it because I'm looking at someone, my teacher, who's also doing it.
MS. LESHELL HATLEYSo, for instance, I have third grade robotics students, and the girls are -- they sometimes, or actually, many times, answer real questions correctly than the boys do. And they don't, at that age, I guess, look at, you know, a female that are just really engaged and having a lot of fun at learning. We also have an adult class, which is taught by -- instructed by the name of Marco Jacobs, that's starting up in the next couple of weeks. So, certainly, if anyone's interested...
NNAMDIAnyone 60 or older welcome to apply.
HATLEYAnyone. It doesn't -- we don't have age range. I am often quoted as saying I teach from age three to 73, so there is no age requirement.
NNAMDIWe need to up that to 83, Leshell.
NNAMDIOK. Thank you very much for your call. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue our conversation. It's Tech Tuesday. We are talking about learning to code and inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. What skills do you wish you were equipped with in your professional field? Do you ever fantasize about retraining yourself to learn how to write computer code?
NNAMDIIf you've already called, stay on the line. If the lines are busy, simply go to our website, kojoshow.org, or send us a tweet at #TechTuesday. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIIt's Tech Tuesday. We're learning to code or talking about it anyway with Jeff Casimir, owner of Jumpstart Lab. Jumpstart Lab trains developers here in Washington. Jeff also leads instruction at Hungry Academy. That's a training program that's run in conjunction with the online coupon business LivingSocial. Rosalyn Lemieux is a partner at Fission Strategy. That's a company that helps social causes use social media. She's also an instructor with the program CodeNow.
NNAMDIRyan Seashore is the founder of CodeNow, which is focused on training students and young people to learn coding. It's a nonprofit. And Zach Sims is the founder of Codeacademy, which is the force behind Code Year, a free year-long course offering online lessons to those who want to learn computer programming.
NNAMDII'll start with you, Ryan. To what extent is this a conversation about vocational training, preparing people for where the jobs are, regardless of whether they're just coming in to the workforce or whether they've been a part of it for a long time?
SEASHOREI know a lot of programmers will not like to hear this, but I do see programming as the next blue-collar job. So I think it's a -- there's hundreds of thousands of open jobs in the technology world, and we're just not able to fill it. So I think it really is a little bit of vocational training, of just giving people the power and the ability to actually fill these. And our program is just exposing these youth from underserved communities early on and letting them see that this is a place where they can actually go and make a career of it.
NNAMDIHow do you feel about this, Zach Sims?
SIMSI agree with a lot of what Ryan has had to say. You know, I think that coding is really the job of the future as well.
LEMIEUXYeah. I think vocational training and filling the jobs that exist are part of the picture and sort of the immediate need. But the thing that makes me excited about programming is the opportunities that opens up for entrepreneurship. And, to me, the exciting thing about training and people isn't just to fill these, you know, thousands of engineering jobs that are sitting open, but to give them the power to think about, what can I do with these skills in my hands?
NNAMDIAnd your turn, Jeff.
CASIMIRI think, you know, I think about programming a lot like writing books where, to write a book, you need both the skills of language and you need the story. When you look at the days of people first learning to read and write, you know, maybe late Middle Ages and so forth, maybe someone wondered, like, are we going to run out of stories? But you can look at the bookstore and see that there are still millions of stories left to write.
CASIMIRSo I think Ryan is correct in a sense that these skills will spread. More people will be able to write programs and so forth, but that just means that we can create bigger and better dreams.
NNAMDIWashington, D.C. has a good toehold on today's tech economy. Some of the companies making names for themselves at the national level call Washington, D.C. home, like the online coupon company LivingSocial. It's my understanding, Jeff, that you have partnered with LivingSocial on something you're calling the Hungry Academy. It's a program to help train developers trying to make it in the industry. What is Hungry Academy all about and how does it work?
CASIMIRSure. So LivingSocial -- my friends -- Aaron and Chad and I (word?) LivingSocial started a conversation of, what does it take to be a great developer? And, as I said earlier, it's not calculus. It's passion, patience, understanding frustration, working through hard problems. And so we got the idea of, if LivingSocial needs to continue to hire engineers, needs to continue growing this already large development team, could we take people that have the passion, that have the drive, that have the right character skills and teach them the technological skills?
CASIMIRSo some of those are going to be career switchers, you know? Maybe Ethel can come down for Hungry Academy. And some of them are fresh out of college, computer science people. But just to mix a group together and say, all right, we're going to take you as the good kind of people we want, and we're going to turn you into the programmers we want.
NNAMDIAnd what are you looking for in applicants? What do you think a company like LivingSocial is looking for in developers that they can cultivate through a program like yours?
CASIMIRYou know, LivingSocial has grown very quickly, right? The company has now, I believe, over 4,000 employees total after just three years. And a big emphasis for them is maintaining and perpetuating their culture, that people that come in and want to be part of the team kind of support the vision of how they want to work and how they want to be together. And that's really what we look for first. And then the second piece is, do I think you can do this, which, for just about everybody, if you have the first piece, the second piece, is yes.
NNAMDIWhat does your curriculum for this program look like? Five months sounds like a pretty intense crash course.
CASIMIRYeah. So we split part of it. About a third is in a classroom environment, with me and my co-teacher kind of doing direct instruction. About a third of it is doing group work, same kind of setup that LivingSocial uses for their development, so teams of four working on small projects independently. And then the last third is giving back to the community.
CASIMIRSo the only reason that we're able to do these things that we can today with technology -- you know, the technologies that we teach with CodeNow, and the technologies that Zach uses with his program -- they're all open source, where members of the programming community contribute them back to the world to see bigger and greater things built.
CASIMIRSo as part of the program, we're going to try and support that through mentoring with CodeNow, through contributing software back to open source, publishing all of our tutorials and projects, that basically the whole curriculum of the class is going to be made available online for free.
NNAMDIOn to the phones. Caroline in Boyds, Md., your turn. Go ahead, please.
CAROLINEYes. I'm glad you're having this conversation. I've been trying to steer my daughter into STEM career, but I feel that just waiting till junior high school or high school is not enough. They need to be trained from elementary. And, as a matter of fact, my daughter is kind of putting together an idea of mentoring kids in the elementary schools that feed into her high school. It's taking a little bit of time, but something that she wants to do to try to promote more STEM-based careers for kids in our community.
NNAMDIThe earlier, the better, right, Ros?
LEMIEUXYeah, absolutely. And one of the things I would mention there is that I think the specific skills that young people learn are not as nearly as important as the ethos of -- that they can teach themselves things, that there's resources out there, that the power is in their hands to pick up that next skill set because, as one of the earlier callers mentioned, you know, you can become an expert in a particular technology today, and five years from now it can be completely meaningless.
LEMIEUXBut what you pick up along the way is that you have the capacity to learn new things. And you also learn that in -- unlike any other career that I've seen, there's a huge amount of resources out there. In terms of community, you know, if you run into a roadblock, you can ask other people for help. If you really are struggling with a piece of code, folks will make suggestions. There's a lot of open-source code available to start with. So you really have a lot of power to keep your skills updated, and I think that's a lesson that you can teach someone very, very young.
NNAMDICaroline, thank you very much for your call. On to Jessica in Harrisonburg, Va. Jessica, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JESSICAHi, everyone. Thanks for taking my call. I wanted to make a general comment, maybe open up for discussion, about computer programming in the social sciences, kind of having a broader view of what you can do with that sort of knowledge. As a graduate student in psychology, I didn't realize until graduate school that you might need to know some sort of programming language to analyze your data.
JESSICAAnd the more you know, the better off you are for getting a job. So just kind of going out -- psychology, sociology, math -- away from just I want to write a computer program. I might want to write a program to analyze my data, what you guys think about the sort of influence that this skill can have, you know, broader than your typical computer guy.
NNAMDIWell, just by mere coincidence or not, Jessica, Jeff Casimir gave remarks at the CodeMash conference last week in Cleveland, where he said that developers lead a life of privilege, and they've largely used their skill to build things for themselves and for their own financial benefit. He challenged them to focus more on building tools that solve real problems and make differences in the lives of real people. I guess you're talking -- you were talking, Jeff, about what Jessica is talking about right now.
CASIMIRYeah. I think Jessica is right that, you know, these programming skills, it's not just about, oh, let me build an app for our phone. Let me build this little thing. It can be just let me build the tools to do other jobs better. Whatever kind of job you're looking at now, if it involves creativity, then programming can help. If you want to be a journalist, you know, the best journalist of these coming generations are going to need to program, are going to need to work with large data sets, pull out implications and do that efficiently, which you just can't do by hand.
NNAMDIAnswer your question, Jessica?
JESSICAYeah, yeah. I just want to say I completely agree. I'm not necessarily a computer nerd, but as a aspiring psychologist and researcher, being able to write code to analyze data, I was -- the learning curve was horrible. I wanted to throw many computers out the window. But now that I'm comfortable writing through a computer and telling it what I need it to do, it's made my job a lot easier. So I encourage, you know, broader -- a broader scope for people who are interested in that. So thanks a lot, guys.
NNAMDIJessica, thank you very much for your call. Ryan Seashore, we're at a moment right now where for-profit colleges are taking a lot of heat over whether they can deliver an education that offers real job opportunities, or whether they set students up for suffocating under a mountain of debt. What concerns do you have about where for-profit education may end up fitting into the movement to teach coding in the United States?
SEASHOREWell, we're nonprofit, so I am, by no means, an expert on this. I think it's important that the for-profit colleges set up expectations that are reasonable. I think it's important that individuals do their homework, they know what they're getting into, but they also know what they want to get out of it. And I think it's -- even the most basic introduction to programming is great. But just because you're using Codeacademy or you're using Hackety Hack, or you're going through a quick program, it doesn't mean that you'll develop these skills automatically.
SEASHOREAlso, a lot of what it takes to become a good programmer is practice, and it's making sure that you get on a regimen and that you're able to put in the time necessary.
NNAMDIZach, to what extent does a degree hold merit in this sector to start off with any way, whether we're talking about Harvard or the University of Phoenix? It seems we're talking about a lot of creative people, many of whom dropped out of college, who -- or who never went to college or who taught themselves to code on their own.
SIMSYeah, I definitely agree with you on that. You know, I dropped out of college myself. I think part of what we're doing is largely geared towards making those paper credentials, you know, a diploma, outmoded. I think, you know, a lot of the programmers that we've hired and a lot of the programmers that I know in the startup community never went to college, or they were self-taught.
SIMSAnd as Ryan said, you know, you really have to do this in your free time. You really have to be driven to program in your free time, to learn in your free time. And a degree can sort of guide you towards doing that, but just because you have a degree doesn't mean you're inherently better than someone that was self-taught.
NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid that's all the time we have. Zach Sims is the co-founder of Codeacademy, the force behind Code Year, which is a free year-long course offering online lessons. For those who want to learn, Ryan Seashore is the founder of CodeNow, which is focused on training students and young people to learn coding. Rosalyn Lemieux is a partner at Fission Strategy, a company that helps social causes use social media. She's an instructor with CodeNow.
NNAMDIAnd Jeff Casimir is the owner of Jumpstart Lab, which trains developers in Washington. He also leads instruction at Hungry Academy, a training program run in conjunction with the online coupon business LivingSocial. Thank you all for joining us. And thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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