This past weekend, 10 kids gave up their Saturday and Sunday mornings (8:00 – 1:00 each day) to learn the basics of building apps(“coding”) for mobile devices. I am so proud of these kids – as well as our instructor, Jateen Bhakta. More information and thoughts below, but this is just the beginning for our new organization, Tri Valley YEAH! and our partnership with the Menlo App Academy. Click here for more photos from this past weekend’s class.
The broader story:
In early 2011, my friend Jason LaBarbera and I started discussing the topic of kids, education, and technology. We both a) have kids and b) are in careers focused on Silicon Valley and the technology industry (myself as an entrepreneur and venture capitalist and Jason as owner and CEO of a successful recruiting firm focused on the tech industry).
Over the past 24 months, we met many times for breakfast, coffee, etc. and kept focusing on a basic question: Why aren’t our schools teaching kids the basics of computer science (CS) at an early age?
The background for our conversation is simple. Many of the best-paying jobs in America are in Engineering in Silicon Valley. Companies have hundreds of thousands of open positions for Engineers (not just in SV). Many kids graduating from college today do not have the CS skills to apply for these jobs. Many of the wealthiest entrepreneurs in the world started as Engineers (see: Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates and many more).
So why aren’t our schools starting to teach CS at an early age – just like they teach English, Math, History, Science and other subjects?
We did some research on the subject and found a host of reasons, but the primary ones center around a) state requirements & testing on existing curriculum, b) lack of teachers to teach the courses and c) inertia. Our sincere hope is that the rising press coverage on this subject, support from leaders like Michael Bloomberg and President Obama, new platforms like CodeAcademy and Code.org, and growing awareness among parents of the value of Computer Science will move the ball forward.
Until that time comes…
We’re moving forward with a grass-roots solution.
Jason, his colleague Mitch Eason and I were fortunate to connect last year with the founders of the Menlo App Academy (an amazing group of parents and kids – read more about them in Forbes), who have developed an awesome, basic curriculum to teach kids to build mobile apps using the Corona SDK. Via the MAA team, we met up with Jateen Bhakta, a passionate part-time teacher and game developer. After a few months of work and collaboration with the Menlo App Academy team, this past weekend we officially launched the local program for kids in the Tri Valley (East Bay, CA) area – Tri Valley YEAH! (Youth Empowered Apps Happening!).
Our goal is not to turn 10 year-olds into Ruby engineers. Rather, it is to introduce kids to the concepts of coding, quickly get them to a point of “instant gratification” (building an app), and provide ongoing resources and encouragement to learn more. Ideally over time we’ll partner with educational institutions to try to scale this throughout the Tri Valley area (300,000 residents). If some percentage of the kids in our programs go on to learn more about CS and eventually become Engineers, we’ve succeeded.
For now, as I said above, I’m just really proud of our team and the kids. We had a ton of fun this weekend, and it was awesome to see the kids faces light up as they made modifications to their apps. And thankful to Max Colbert, Matt Dillabough and their parents who pioneered this model and came up with the core curriculum.