To build a competitive workforce in the future, we need to support the students of today. That’s particularly true for computer science, which traditionally hasn’t been part of the curriculum in many schools but will touch virtually every job in the future. Hadi Partovi is the founder of Code.org, a nonprofit dedicated to expanding access to computer science and increasing participation by women and underrepresented minorities. The organization works directly with school districts to provide curriculum and teacher resources to ensure that every student has the same opportunity to learn computer science, as they have to learn biology, chemistry, or algebra.
What’s the vision behind Code.org?
Starting Code.org had a lot to do with my own personal story. When I was a child my family immigrated here from Iran. We had very little. My father, who had been a theoretical nuclear physicist in Iran, taught me to code when I was only ten years old on a Commodore 64. With just that experience, I was able to get an internship in the ninth grade at a tech company while all of my friends were waiting tables.
Most kids don’t have fathers like mine, and they don’t have the opportunities that I had. But instead of teaching kids ourselves, Code.org took the approach of working within schools. We provide the tools to teachers so they can teach kids — the teachers are doing the bulk of the work. It’s not easy to be a teacher these days, and there’s a lot of pressure from parents and their school systems. And frankly, it’s scary for them to take on a new field. So we’re trying to help them. The amazing work they’re doing is the driving inspiration for what we do at Code.org.
Why is it so important that children today learn computer science?
A lot of people think we’re just about teaching kids to code, but there’s a lot more to computer science than just coding: like data analysis, cybersecurity, and how networks work. And today every single industry is impacted by these things — they’re changing everything. Schools need to give students a well rounded background. It’s like biology: Every child needs to understand photosynthesis, even though he or she won’t go on to be a botanist. Not that every kid should graduate as a coder. Many will go on to be nurses, lawyers, or other careers, but they all need to understand the basics of computer science.
What holds some people back from learning about computer science and coding?
Many people are intimidated. We’ve discovered through our work that there’s a better way to motivate them than just offering the opportunity to learn to code. So we help them dream up something they want to create. Once someone thinks, “I want to build X,” it’s much easier to focus on the tools they need to learn. It’s much less intimidating.
Code.org has become hugely popular in K-12 education, giving kids early access to technology skills. What’s your advice to kids who want to learn to code, but don’t have access to programs at their schools?
If there’s a field that has the most self-taught experts and is a home to the most college dropouts, computer science is it. There are tons of resources to learn on your own. All of the resources we give to schools are available online now. We also include links to third-party resources. And we have a map that shows third-party classes — workshops, summer camps, or online — as well as our own courses, so anyone can find one that works.
How are the demographics of computer science changing thanks to organizations like Code.org and others?
Building diversity in the tech world is one of our chief motivators. It’s a field that essentially dominated by white, upper-middle-class men. Equal opportunity is a cornerstone of the American dream, but it’s not shown in the fastest-growing, best-paying field. There have been many efforts to improve diversity in computer science, but it’s impossible to totally balance the scales without getting the school systems involved. It’s because we’ve worked through the school systems that we’ve been able to help more than 9 million girls learn to code. That’s a huge step toward levelling the playing field in computer science.
What role does technology play in helping you run your business and specifically how does Salesforce help you connect to students and teachers?
We use Salesforce tools for all of our email communication to teachers and to donors. In particular, Code.org uses Pardot (owned by Salesforce) to send personalized emails to our 600,000 teachers. We also use the Salesforce CRM tools for keeping track of our donors.
How can we support your mission?
Fans of Code.org can support our mission in many different ways, such as volunteering in a classroom, buying a Code Like A Girl T-shirt, donating money, helping translate our curriculum, or working as a volunteer engineer in our open source code base. See all the options at http://code.org/help
You can also organize an Hour of Code at your school, a one-hour introduction to computer science, designed to demystify “code” and to show that anybody can learn the basics. The Hour of Code takes place each year during Computer Science Education Week. The 2017 Computer Science Education Week will be December 4-10, but you can host an Hour of Code all year round.
To hear more from Hadi, join him at Dreamforce at the Small Business Essentials Keynote on Tuesday, November 7 at 11:30 a.m. at Moscone West. Can’t make it to San Francisco? Tune into the keynote and all the action of Dreamforce on Salesforce Live.