Posts from hacking education

Saturday Hacking Sessions

The godfather of computer science education in the NYC public schools is Mike Zamansky, who has been leading the computer science program at Stuyvesant High School since the mid 90s. A few years ago Mike started a summer program in partnership with St Joseph’s College in Brooklyn that allows middle and high school students who don’t go to Stuyvesant to get the same computer science education that his students at Stuyvesant get. It’s been a huge success but Mike doesn’t want to stop there.

So he’s extended his summer program to the weekends during the school year and is calling this program “Saturday Hacking Sessions”. Mike has turned to Kickstarter to see if he can crowdfund this program. The Kickstarter is here. I backed it yesterday and if you are so inclined, I am sure Mike would love your support as well.

Mike told me this via email yesterday:

If we can get this funded, I don’t have to charge anyone to make this happen which opens the door for kids to drop in (parental permission not withstanding).

I know I am sounding like a broken record on this but a computer science education program that is free and open to any student is the kind of thing that can change lives and provide economic opportunities where there aren’t enough right now.

I’ll finish by posting their Kickstarter video. As Mike says in the video, “we aren’t very good at making videos, but we are really good at inspiring kids and teaching them computer science.” With that disclaimer, here’s the video:

Using Coding To Teach Algebra

Algebra is a turning point for many students. Addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, and solving equations makes sense to most students because they come across these notions in their every day life. But functions are something completely different. It’s the first abstraction most students come across in their study of math. And I’ve seen a lot of students start to dislike math when they get to algebra. They get frustrated that they just don’t get it. They tune out and turn off to math. And that’s a shame. Because math is powerful stuff. It is the key to so much.

I’ve been really impressed with a program called Bootstrap. It is a curriculum module that math teachers can drop into an algebra (or geometry) class. It maps to the common core. In Bootstrap, students use code to make a simple videogame which they really enjoy doing. But they are also learning functions in the course of coding up their game. Once they understand how functions work in code, Bootstrap makes the leap to algebraic functions. And students get it. Because it is tangible to them instead of being this abstract concept they just don’t grok.

This is just one example, but a powerful one, of how learning to code also teaches students important other concepts that they need to learn to advance in their studies.

People ask me why teaching kids to code is so important. They ask “we don’t want everyone to become a software engineer, do we?” And of course the answer to that question is no. But coding is an important intervention device into a student’s learning. Just like writing an essay or doing a workbook is an important intervention. Coding unlocks comprehension and understanding of certain hard to understand concepts in a fun and tangible way.

And Bootstrap is a great example of that. If you are a math teacher for or a parent of students between 12 and 16, you should check it out.

CSNYC At Two

Next Wednesday night, at Civic Hall in New York City at 6:30pm, CSNYC will celebrate its second anniversary. For those that don’t know, CSNYC is a non-profit dedicated to the idea that every child who goes through the NYC public school system should encounter computer science along the way, in elementary school, in middle school, and in high school, and those that want to do a deep exploration of computer science should be able to do that before they graduate high school. The idea is not to turn every student into a software engineer, although it would be good if a bunch of students decided to do that. The idea is that every career will require a working knowledge of coding in the world we are heading into and that we ought to make sure our children have that.

In two years, we have increased our school coverage from one to over 120 schools. We are very proud of that accomplishment and will be showcasing those schools, the programs that are in them, and the students who are benefiting from this effort next Wednesday night. This event is also a fundraiser since we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us. Though we are in 120 schools, there are 1700 in the NYC public school system. At its core, CSNYC is funding teacher training and development. The only scalable way to get all children to learn computer science is to train the best teachers out there how to teach computer science. I figure it will require somewhere between 3500 and 4000 teachers trained in teaching computer science in order to reach all 1700 schools in NYC and achieve our goals. That will require a fair bit of money.

If you would like to attend CSNYC at Two next wednesday night, go here and RSVP. Individual tickets are $250. But if you have the means, you could also buy a $1000 ticket that is for two guests, or a table for $10,000, $25,000, or $50,000.

It’s going to be fun, optimistic, and exciting evening. I hope to see some of you there.

Video Of The Week: SEP Spring Showcase

The SEP (Software Engineering Pilot) Spring Showcase is today from 10am to 2pm at BRIC in Brooklyn. I’m still in Paris so will miss it but I encourage anyone in NYC to attend. Here’s a video from last year’s showcase so you can see what goes on at the SEP showcase.

SEP Showcase from SEPNYC on Vimeo.

Conveniently today’s SEP Spring Showcase is just a short walk from CrossFit South Brooklyn, where “Get Fit or Be Hacking” is happening at today at 2pm. As I blogged about several weeks ago, “Get Fit or Be Hacking” is the coding+fitness competition my friend Rob Underwood organized to raise money for CSNYC. The event is open to the public if you’d like to cheer on the teams. There is also an after-party at Three’s Brewing at 5pm that you’re welcome to stop by — Sean Stern, one of the star CS teachers from the Academy for Software Engineering, will be at Three’s among other friends and advocates for computer science.

If you’d like to support CSNYC and programs like SEP, think about supporting one of the teams competing at Get Fit or Be Hacking by making a donation on the “Get Fit or Be Hacking” fundraising page on Crowdrise. And if you enjoy watching amazing kids do amazing things with code, check out today’s SEP Spring Showcase.

Fun Friday: Teach A Kid To Code

You know what is fun? It’s fun to show somebody how to do something powerful. It’s fun to give somebody the superpowers you have.

So if you know how to code, it’s really fun to teach kids how to do it.

And if you want to have that kind of fun, you should check out a program called TEALS. I’ve written about TEALS before here at AVC, but in short, you stop by a school on the way to work and teach a first period computer science class in combination with a teacher who works in the school.

There’s a bit more to it than that and if you want to learn more there are two upcoming TEALS information sessions that you can attend in NYC:

This Sunday in Brooklyn:

Sunday, April 26th, 2015
2:30pm-4:00pm
Brooklyn Public Library, Central
10 Grand Army Plaza, Brooklyn
Light lunch provided.
Register thru EventBrite

The Next Day in Manhattan:

Monday, April 27th, 2015
6:45pm-8:15pm
Microsoft 11 Times Square
8th ave, just north of W 41st St
Light dinner provided.
Register thru EventBrite

If you’d like a bit more information before deciding to attend an information session, read this volunteer guide, or watch this video.

ScriptEd Summer Internships

If you are in a tech company in NYC (or if you run a tech company in NYC) please consider hosting a ScriptEd summer internship this summer. Here is what you need to know to consider that:

1/ ScriptEd is a nonprofit supported by CSNYC. It recruits software developers to volunteer in low-income high schools around New York City during the school year and teach a foundational course in web development and computer science. Over the summer, ScriptEd connects its students to paid six-week summer internships at tech companies and with tech teams within other types companies. Some of its past internship partners include About.com, Contently, Thrillist, JP Morgan and American Express. ScriptEd currently serves more than 300 students across NYC and will place 100 of its students in internships this summer.

2/ ScriptEd will hold a Summer 2015 Internship Information Session on Wednesday, March 4th at 6:30pm. They are specifically looking for companies with at least 40 New York City based employees and at least 3-4 developers on staff. If you are interested in attending this event, please fill out an interest form here. To learn more about their internship program, click here.

3/ ScriptEd’s internship program was so successful last summer that they are aiming to place five times as many students in internships this summer. All of their internship partners from last summer reported that they are re-engaging with ScriptEd this summer, and many have asked for an increased number of interns this summer.

4/ ScriptEd’s long term goal is to ensure that low income NYC students have the experience, mentorship and confidence they need to pursue careers in tech.

5/ The technology industry is growing faster than ever and diverse talent is becoming more difficult to find.

6/ Companies can try to solve for their own tech talent shortage by stepping up recruiting efforts to capture a bigger piece of the tech talent pool but that is not a long-term solution. Expansion of the tech talent pipeline – attracting young women and young students of color to the study of STEM and careers in tech – must be a part of the solution.

7/ ScriptEd’s student population during the 2013-2014 school year was 30% Black, 43% Hispanic, 24% Asian and 3% White. Its 2014 internship class was 50% female and 50% male.

8/ Fin

For ScriptEd’s annual report, click here.

For ScriptEd’s  internship brochure, click here.

Some Thoughts On Workplace Diversity

Intel made news yesterday when they announced a $300mm fund to “to be used in the next three years to improve the diversity of the company’s work force, attract more women and minorities to the technology field and make the industry more hospitable to them once they get there. The money will be used to fund engineering scholarships and to support historically black colleges and universities.”

The diversity reports coming out of the big tech companies in the past year have shown very little inclusion of african american, latino, and other “underrepresented minorities” in the tech sector’s workforce. And we all know that women are very much unrepresented in the tech sector, particularly at the top levels of leadership.

There are many, including plenty of AVC community members, who will say “so what?”. And there are many who will debate the reasons for this. I don’t think either of these things are particularly debatable. Diversity is a good thing for many reasons. It opens up a company to a multiplicity of ideas, opinions, and connections to the market. And the reasons for this lack of diversity stem from two primary (and related and self reinforcing) things, not enough women and underrepresented minorities setting themselves early enough on a career path in tech and societal biases against tech as a “proper career” for women and underrepresented minorities. These two issues have to be tackled head on and in parallel.

I applaud Intel’s move and the leadership they are showing. I have no doubt that the other big tech companies will follow their leadership in some way.

I have been working on this problem for about five years now, mostly in NYC, and in partnership with many people and many efforts that are doing great work. There are too many to list in this post. There is no shortage of effort and impact. We just need more of it.

If I have one learning and one piece of advice for the big tech companies who are likely going to start making big investments here, it would be to start as young as you can and invest all the way up from there. What I mean by that is look at early childhood education, look at elementary school, look at middle school (this is really important), and look at high school.

While Harvey Mudd has been able to achieve gender balance in its undergraduate computer science program, I think its a big ask of higher education to solve this problem all by themselves. Too many women and underepresented minorities have made decisions that take them off the pathway to a technical career long before they get to college.

I believe the biggest impact we can make is in our K-12 system, where kids first find their passions, figure out what they are good at, and start learning the skills that will set them on their way. We need to invest in STEM (or STEAM) programs that work in the K-12 system, we need to overinvest in targeting them at young women and underrepresented minorities, and we need to sustain these efforts from elementary school, through middle school, into high school, and we need to guide these young people to a pathway that can give them challenging work and a good income throughout their careers.

The guide part is important. I’ve met a ton of guidance counselors and parents who don’t think “this is the right path” for someone, when it clearly is. That’s part of the societal bias at work. I don’t think we can change the societal biases without creating role models and we can’t create role models without opening up opportunities more broadly for the underrepresented. That is why we have to attack these two issues in parallel.

I will end with the observation that there are many terrific people and organizations working on these problems and having a big impact but in a few small pockets. We need to invest in them and help them scale. This problem is being solved already and the strategies and tactics are fairly well known and validated. We don’t need to invent new things for the most part. We just need to find, fund, and support.

If anyone out there wants to get involved in doing that, you can reach out to me and I will point you in the right directions.

College and Entrepreneurship

After I tweeted out a link to yesterday’s post, I had this twitter exchange:

I took some time today to look through our portfolio and estimate the percentage.

I believe 21 founders out of a total of 72 that we have backed in the history of USV did not graduate from college. That’s about 30%.

However, I believe 17 founders have advanced degrees, including a few PhDs. So roughly a quarter of the founders we’ve backed have invested heavily in their higher education.

There are no specific credentials required to get funded by USV or most other VC firms. You need to be credible as an entrepreneur. That means being able to see, recruit, make, and sell. If you can do that, and if you can prove you can do that to investors, you’ve got a great shot at getting funded.