Here at Bio::Neos we believe in encouraging increased software development related education opportunities for K-12 school level children. Even though additional structured in-person programs are ideal because of the benefits of face-to-face communication in educational programs, there are a ton of free resources online that really make the barriers to learning how to code extremely low. This is important for many reasons, and we are not the only ones believe that to be true.
This belief translates into frequent volunteerism in our community when we are asked to participate in technology related events, programs, and organizations.
Recently, I was asked to participate in a local event organized by the Kirkwood Workplace Learning Connection, called the Career Caravan. The event was structured to expose 11th graders at the local high schools to a variety of professionals in high-demand careers so that they can get additional information, ask questions, and get a general feel for what to expect in these careers as they enter a phase of their lives where they will begin to prepare for the future.
I spoke to 3 groups during the event, and they all seemed engaged and interested. One highlight from the second group was a response from a young girl when I asked the group why they haven't tried programming yet if they are interested in doing it as a career. She told me, "I'm just not smart enough". While I was confident she was being sarcastic, I took the opportunity to express why I feel that is not a valid opinion. I truly believe, like they say on Code.org, "Anybody can learn".
What I told them was the way that I got started programming. I didn't have any of the amazing online resources that exist today (the Internet wasn't exactly the same in 1992...) and also, I was only 12. But the point of the story was actually not why I got started, but who inspired me to start. It was my sister. My sister, an extremely creative, abstract-thinker, english-lover, mostly disinterested in technology, who grew up to be a pastry chef. How did this come about? Well the short version of the story is that my sister, a voracious reader, stumbled upon a huge three-ring binder holding the User Manual to Atari BASIC one day and in approximately an hour, taught herself to write a trivia game in BASIC. When she showed it to me, it blew my mind that she could write these (seemingly nonsensical) statements in the appropriate order, with the appropriate syntax, and before long she had made her own video game. Talk about cool! I obviously immediately sat down with that binder and didn't put it down until I had learned how to replicate exactly what she had done.
I told them this story before giving them any background on my sister, and with perfect timing: one of them asked me what she does today. When I told them she is a pastry chef, they all laughed. Regardless, I think it did drive the point home. Anybody can learn. All it takes is an hour. Code.org has it right, and those of us in software related fields should do what we can to contribute to organizations like that, local groups encouraging software curriculums or providing extra curricular programs (like Coder Dojo), and teachers providing software curriculums in K-12 schools. Look around you locally and see what you can do to pitch in, even if it is only taking a few minutes to mentor someone or provide some advice. You'll probably enjoy it and you never know what an impact you can make.