Computer Science Education Week: Hadi Partovi, Founder of Code.org
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Computer Science Education Week: Hadi Partovi, Founder of Code.org


MAMIE RHEINGOLD:
Thanks for tuning into this special edition
of Google Developers Live. Today, we’re
featuring Hadi Partovi from code.org in celebration
of computer science education week. You can find out more about
computer science education week and the Hour of Code
campaign at csedweek.org. Hi, my name is Mamie
Rheingold, and I’m your host for this special
edition of Google Developers Live. Our guest today is Hadi Partovi. And after getting his Bachelor’s
and Master’s in computer science from Harvard, he
went on to Microsoft in 1994, where he joined a small team
to grow Internet Explorer. He has since advised and
invested in multiple start-ups, including Dropbox and
Facebook, and he also founded many companies of his
own, the most recent of which is code.org. So Hadi, I’d love to start by
hearing more from you about why should we all care
about computer science? What is your vision
with code.org? And tell us more about this
week’s Hour of Code events. HADI PARTOVI: Sure. Well, code.org was a realization
that computers are now everywhere. They’re not just on your desktop
and in your laptops or at work. They’re in your pockets,
they’re in your cars, they’re in your appliances. They’re literally are
all over the place, and every industry in the
world depends on software. Whether it’s transportation,
agriculture, food, and yet the vast
majority of Americans have no idea how
these things work, and the vast majority
of schools don’t even offer courses in introducing
these things to you. And a lot of people think
that code.org or other sites like this are designed to
basically produce more software engineers to get jobs at
companies like Google. And that’s a side effect of
people learning how to code. My main vision is that every
student in every school should have an opportunity
to learn not because they want to get a job at Google. And computer science,
it is a class that you can take
and get a great job, but more importantly,
it’s a class that you should take
if you want to become a doctor in the 21st century or
if you want to become a lawyer, or a journalist, or
even the president. Every career that you can think
of in the modern day world should have some
background in this. MAMIE RHEINGOLD:
Great, and so what are these Hour of Code events? HADI PARTOVI: The Hour of
Code was a coming together of a number of ideas we had
for how to promote computer science, not just to students,
but to parents and to teachers, to help remove the veil
of mystery that separates the average person from
the Mark Zuckerbergs or the genius
coders of the world, and to help everybody
learn that not only this is important to learn, but
that it’s easy to learn, that a seven-year-old can start
basic computer programing. And starting with that
idea, we thought what if we could get millions
of students in schools and communities worldwide
to try to learn just one hour of computer
science and how could we bring the best companies,
organizations, celebrities, governments to come to
bear to basically grow this into a real movement? MAMIE RHEINGOLD: And
since this is about learning to code, when did
you first learn to code? HADI PARTOVI: The very, very
first computer program I wrote was on a programmable
calculator, I think, when I was
around eight years old. And my first computer I got
when I was about 10 years old was a Commodore 64. And my dad gave
me this computer, yet there was no
games on it out– we were living in Iran,
where you couldn’t even buy a computer in
that country there. It was sort of
imported from Italy. And they said, if you want
to play any games on it, you have to write them yourself. And my twin brother
and I immediately started finding magazines that
had sort of basic programs that you could type
into the computer to create your own game. And then starting from there, we
learned how to change the games and write our own. MAMIE RHEINGOLD: Cool. I just took two months
off to learn how to code. And like learning anything
new, it can be hard. And for me it was like
learning to see and think in a whole new way. And sometimes I could
take just an hour to understand the problem
I was trying to solve. So tell me more
about what you’re envisioning kids doing
in an hour of code. HADI PARTOVI: So as you’ve
learned yourself in doing it, coding and writing
computer programs isn’t about learning
a new language. And the average
computer language has just about 50 words in it. And I compare it a
lot more to LEGOs. When you use LEGOs,
it’s not like there’s 10,000 different LEGO blocks. There’s about 50
different major blocks. But the art is in how you
build something complicated using that limited
set of commands. And the most
important thing a kid can learn in one
hour of writing code is to realize that there’s not
a lot to memorize and it it’s more about solving problems
and creating whatever you want. And unleashing the creativity
and empowering a kid to realize, well, I can
actually do this stuff. That’s our number one goal
at the end of one hour. MAMIE RHEINGOLD: Cool. Yeah, and for those
kids that know they don’t want to
be engineers, they don’t want to grow up to
be a computer science, why should they participate? HADI PARTOVI: At
least 95 people don’t want to grow up and become
a software engineer. And our goal is to get all
of them to learn the basics. And the basics of
computer science mean not just
learning how to code, but also learning how does
the internet work, what’s a software virus. When I went to high
school, every single school and every single student
taught and learned how electricity works
or how to dissect a frog to see the digestive system. And in this century,
schools should teach how do you effectively
dissect an app to learn the insides [INAUDIBLE] to that. And that’s relevant if you
want to become a doctor, health care is dominated
now by technology. If you want to become
a lawyer, understanding IP law or understanding
how you’re going to regulate
things like the NSA. We see our government stumbling
with efforts in technology, and it’s not because they need
to become software engineers, but they need to have at least
more of a basic understanding than the absolute zero that
our schools currently offer. MAMIE RHEINGOLD: So
it’s like the physics or the biology of
the digital world? HADI PARTOVI: Exactly. This year’s Nobel Prize
winners in chemistry were computer scientists. That’s the best way
of realizing this is a field that
impacts everything. MAMIE RHEINGOLD: I love that. And since this is
Google Developers Live, we have a lot of developers
out there tuning in. And so what can
people who are already developers, what
can they do to help your mission with code.org? HADI PARTOVI: So most
developers automatically jump to think this is awesome. If you’re already a
developer, you already realize that you have a special
power that most people don’t and that you can harness
thousands of computers to do your bidding, which
is an unusual thing. There’s no other skill
that helps amplify the creativity of the human
mind that the way computer programming does. And sharing that is something
that developers very naturally want to do. The best ways to do that
are to basically get people in your community,
especially your local school, but if not a local school,
an after school club, like a Boy Scouts
or Girl Scouts, or so on, to add
computer science. It’s harder to get
schools to do this, because they are
government organizations. But Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts,
and boys and girls clubs, and so on readily can
engage in this stuff. To make it easier
for developers, we’ve got a sign-up page,
where engineers can sign up as volunteers to say I
want to get involved, which will then actually
help local communities who want a software engineer as a
mentor come and pull them in. We’ve also released a
20-hour online course that’s something that comes
after the first hour of code to teach you 20 hours
worth of more computer programming and also
learning about things like how the internet works. And that’s an online
course you can teach to your kids
and family members, or bring to a local
school or club. MAMIE RHEINGOLD: Cool. And also our developer
community is global. And I noticed that for
an hour of code, it says, you don’t even need a
computer to participate. So I want to learn
more about that. How can people participate,
if they don’t have access to computers or the internet? HADI PARTOVI: Yeah, so
there’s both you can do it, if you don’t have
a computer, you could do it if you
don’t have the internet. We’ve tried to solve for all
the versions of this stuff. If you have absolutely
nothing, there’s paper and pen exercises, where
somebody can write programs on a piece of paper. And it’s more like sort
of social exercise, where one kid pretends like
they’re the computer managing a robotic arm, doing what
another kid’s program is telling them to do. And we have a bunch of puzzles
like how does a robotic arm take a stack of cups and
then build a Christmas tree pattern out of them? And one kid needs to
write the program, but the other kid to
execute to do that. Now, in a lot of the modern
world people have computers, but they don’t have great
internet connectivity, or they don’t have
lots of computers. But our tutorials,
we have tutorials that work on an offline
computer or on a smartphone, or a tablet. Smartphones are pretty
popular these days. And you can learn
to code on one. And that’s a great way to start. MAMIE RHEINGOLD:
Yeah, it’s actually when I was learning to
code, writing things out and white boarding
has been actually like the first step
for anything just to understand what is it
that we’re trying to do and map out how to
break code to do that. So like that. HADI PARTOVI: Yeah, it’s
all about problem solving. MAMIE RHEINGOLD: Yeah. HADI PARTOVI: It forces you to
organize your thoughts better than most other
things you learn. And it’s interesting
that the ability to organize your thoughts and
to break a big problem down into smaller problems
is really useful, even if you want to become
a lawyer or a manager. Learning how to
break down a problem is really valuable for
learning how to build a team and manage who does what. They’re very related skills. MAMIE RHEINGOLD: Yeah,
applies to everything. It’s like essential life skill. And so what happens if 10
million kids all learn to code. What does that future
look like to you? HADI PARTOVI: First of
all, hopefully our servers will hold up. MAMIE RHEINGOLD: Yeah. HADI PARTOVI: We don’t
know how many people are going to hit our site
for the Hour of Code, but it’s a little frightening. But if 10 million kids
learn at least the basics of computer science, I think,
a number of things will happen. First of all, we’ll
hit an inflection point of effectively, whether
the school system wants it or not, the world
audience is going to start learning coding and
computer science at a larger scale than they have been. A large percentage
of the population has some familiarity
with this stuff. I think, you’ll
see more innovation in every field software
can create innovation. We just heard about Amazon using
drones to deliver packages. We hear about nanobots being
used in your bloodstream to cure illnesses by having
a little robotic thing in your blood
doing stuff to you. The hardest challenges
in most of these things are actually in the
software and the code. Building a drone is easy. Programming that drone so
it doesn’t run into a tree, that’s actually
where it’s harder or how it communicates
with other drones so they don’t hit each other. So what do you think about
transportation, communication, medicine, agriculture, food. All over in every
industry, it’s the software that actually is
driving the innovation. MAMIE RHEINGOLD: And so
after this week, then what? Where do you want to see
code.org go from here? HADI PARTOVI: So code.org
is a surprisingly small organization. We have about, I think,
16 full-time employees. But we have a lot of
ambition, a lot of big ideas. There’s, at least,
four different things we’re going to be doing
after the Hour of Code. One, we have curriculum at
the elementary school level that we built in partnership
with Google and Microsoft, and Facebook, and
Twitter employees. So we want to extend that
to out to curriculum tools. They go all the way
from kindergarten through 12th grade. That’s point one. Point two is actually getting
this into public schools. By fall of next year, we should,
basically, put computer science into about 400 schools. We want to get to 4,000
schools and 40,000 schools. So that’s a multi-year effort
bringing computer science into schools. And then the third
thing we’re working on is changing policies. In 36 states in the
country, computer science doesn’t count towards high
school graduation requirements in math or science. And that’s actually a
great way developers can help petition their
school board saying, why don’t you fix the graduation
rules so computer science is treated as a matter of science. So we’re lobbying. And then lastly, we’re going
to continue doing marketing to help get
underrepresented groups to engage in computer science
more, especially girls and minorities. MAMIE RHEINGOLD: Cool. These are big, big problems
you are trying to solve. Have there been any
obstacles along the way? I mean, education
policy, those are big systems you’re changing. HADI PARTOVI: Yeah, it’s
funny, on the policy side, any time you want to
try to change the system, you expect obstacles. I’ve never worked on
anything, where there’s been such an engagement of
people embracing what we’re doing and getting behind it. At the policy
level, we’ve changed on the order of six
states in six months, which is unheard of. MAMIE RHEINGOLD:
Whoa, that’s fast. HADI PARTOVI: Yeah that’s
really, really fast, because the opposition
is nonexistent. Nobody says, oh no, we
shouldn’t be doing this. The hardest
opposition, though, we have is in changing the public
schools to offer a new class. And because their
mindset is literally, if we add this, what are
we going to need to cut? And I’ve had conversations with
districts’ heads of curriculum, when they say, I guess
this is an elective, so we need to probably
cut another elective. What if we cut ceramics? What are those kids who want
to do ceramics are going to do? I’m just overwhelmed just
thinking, well, first of all, they can learn ceramics
in an after-school class. Let’s teach computer
science in the real school. There’s no jobs in
ceramics, there’s a million jobs in computer
science over the next 10 years. And then, lastly, why don’t
we let the kids decide. Why is the school deciding
that isn’t available, but ceramics is. If you have to make
a choice, choose the one that’s going to be more
popular, let the kids decide, rather than you deciding. But either way, that’s by
far the hardest obstacle is finding school districts who
are willing to create change. MAMIE RHEINGOLD: And
so just to recap, what are the things that folks
can do after they watch this if they’re inspired to
help you and your mission. How can they help? HADI PARTOVI: How
people can help? The easiest way is sign
the petition at code.org. The next easiest way is
doing Hour of Code yourself. Or if you know it already, do
it with a brother or sister, or daughter, or
son, or your mother. Harder ways, you
can spend some money and buy one of our teachers to
help promote code, especially, if you’re a girl. And the best way you help
if you’re an engineer is get your local school
to teach computer science. [INAUDIBLE] on our
website to help you do that, to help you
advocate for that. MAMIE RHEINGOLD:
That’s great, Hadi. Thank you for joining us and
thank you all for tuning in. Make sure to join in on the
fun at code.org during Computer Science Education Week.

About James Carlton

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4 thoughts on “Computer Science Education Week: Hadi Partovi, Founder of Code.org

  1. I think it would be great if everyone learned to code, but I disagree that they should learn to code. The essential life skills we actually need that coding teaches are logic and how computers work. Coding is an avenue for arriving there, but I'd rather see it abstracted in schools as a mandatory debate class, and a computer science class. The former being a prereq for the latter. I'd rather see two existing science classes combined into one, or kick one of the redundant ones out. Good mission though.

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