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:

#hacking education

Comments (Archived):

  1. awaldstein

    Not a programmer. No school age kids but I live downtown and honestly, his passion is seen on the streets with kids and their inventions often.Too cool. The spirit of my father, the inner city physics teacher from Paterson lives large in this guy.I’m in for supporting this.

    1. Mark Essel

      I love this kind of project. It has an iceberg of value beneath the surface

    2. Russell

      Yes indeed, my father taught earth science in schools in all five boroughs and loved the kids in his program. It is great to see passionate teachers and the wonders they do with kids!

      1. awaldstein

        I’m with you all the way on this.After the war, my dad finished his degrees and decided that he would spend his life giving back to the blue collar community that raised him, Eastside High.He spent his entire life creating and running the science department there.A great man who left made a difference.

        1. Twain Twain

          Wow, thanks for sharing that.Your Dad was a great man.

    3. LE

      My father in law was a high school teacher in NYC public schools and did a “tour of duty” in Harlem (back when it was Harlem). When I asked him why he was a teacher [1] he described it as “a calling that only some have”. I can see this must be the case for Mike Zemansky, who obviously is taking quite a pay hit to do this type of work. In NYC, a place where money is certainly more necessary and important than it is in Kansas.With my father in law, the work in the ghetto took a tremendous toll on him as well as his family, and he ended up having to retire in his 50’s. For teaching in those areas, I think he said that you received extra pay or benefits.[1] As far as why he got into it it was a way to get out of going to Vietnam. I also heard the same exact thing from the father of another girl that I dated for a few years.

      1. awaldstein

        Probably a difference is that East side of Patterson is where my dad grew up and that was his neighborhood.Polish Jews moved to Patterson to work in the silk mills. Blue collar and that is where they settled.The most amazing thing is that the village bought a plot of land in Paramus for their sematary. All yiddish, pieces brought over from the shetyl in Poland. There are only two spots left, one is my mom’s. Amazing place. The story of the country as I know it.

        1. LE

          Interesting. Actually a similar thing where my Dad is with the survivor group (from Poland) as well.

          1. awaldstein

            My mom is the last one.Amazing life.

  2. Mark Essel

    Sold, will back it now.

  3. kirklove


  4. Dave Pinsen

    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.You should reach out to Donald Trump. This ties in with his plan to increase opportunity for minorities and inner city youth.Excerpts:Jobs program for inner city youth. The J-1 visa jobs program for foreign youth will be terminated and replaced with a resume bank for inner city youth provided to all corporate subscribers to the J-1 visa program. Raising the prevailing wage paid to H-1Bs will force companies to give these coveted entry-level jobs to the existing domestic pool of unemployed native and immigrant workers in the U.S., instead of flying in cheaper workers from overseas. This will improve the number of black, Hispanic and female workers in Silicon Valley who have been passed over in favor of the H-1B program. Mark Zuckerberg’s personal Senator, Marco Rubio, has a bill to triple H-1Bs that would decimate women and minorities.

  5. tadashiyara

    Read your post, watched the video, just backed the project!

  6. Jess Bachman

    Interesting to hear the one student talk about how he tried sites like codecademy but it didn’t come together until he had other humans to help him. Good to see these in-class efforts that..uh.. don’t scale well.

    1. PhilipSugar

      The whole point to online learning like Kahn Academy is not to replace in class experience.It is to allow the in class experience be totally interactive and to replace lectures with online learning.So it turns the usual process on its head. Instead of sitting in a classroom listening to a lecture done by thousands of teachers and not having interaction, it is listening to a lecture done by one (theoretically the best one) teacher, and having thousands of teachers facilitating interactions.

      1. Jess Bachman

        There is a gamut in online learning. Much of it is designed to be done in private, with only computerized interactions. I’ve never used codecadamy so maybe its suppose to work as you suggest.

        1. PhilipSugar

          I have a brother Tom who is an amazing professor. One of the top ten robotics professors in the world. He loves to teach, which is rare.I told him his best coaching job ever was when his students from Arizona State won the Best Buy Robotics challenge with their Spiderman Robot which could have a student climb walls.…He said no it was when he took kids from the Bario’s in Phoenix and won the GM Robotic Contest against elite high schools from all over the country (his wife loves the sun in AZ and he can’t move)He will tell you the key is to get Sir Issac Newton to speak about the laws of gravity and have everybody else discuss it.

          1. JLM

            .Does Mission Impossible know about this? Wow!Is that really Tom Cruise?JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

          2. PhilipSugar

            We have some really cool stuff in our workshop in AZ. One of the very, very few companies that has a ton of DARPA contracts.

          3. LE

            Absolutely 100% cool and impressive.A “I don’t know jack squat about this” thought here. I wonder what the energy and performance trade off would be with a device that you didn’t wear, that went in front of you in order to lessen the wind resistance of the runner (similar to what a big truck in front on the highway might do for a car behind it). So the only function of the device is to be able to travel at x miles per hour immediately ahead of you and break the wind resistance and maybe carry some things as well to lessen your load.

          4. PhilipSugar

            The toughest thing here is not breaking your neck. Getting pushed is better than pulled

          5. Jess Bachman

            So… I’m not sure what you are trying to say then. That a great teacher needs to be in the classroom day in and day out to get out-sized results? Or that his teachings could be cloned/recorded and played back with a discussion facilitator. Or maybe i’ve just lost the plot. https://uploads.disquscdn.c

          6. PhilipSugar

            The lecture can be done once and seen many times. Interactions have to be many times and cannot be done once.

          7. Twain Twain

            Wow, v. cool.Google-Boston Dynamics’ Atlas bot:*…To be watch accompanied by Henry Hall & His Orchestra – The Teddy Bear’s Picnic (1932):# If you go down to the woods todayYou’re sure of a big surprise! #*

          8. Jess Bachman

            the BD guys always freak me out. Maybe Alphabet will be better masters than the Pentagon. Maybe not….

    2. Matt Zagaja

      Online learning is the kind of thing that I think works well for the kind of people that create online learning systems. Lots of people need the structure/incentives/interaction provided by other people.Though sometimes I also wonder if in-person systems can also be destructive. Few things were more demoralizing about being in public school as a youth than all the other youth having the attitude of school sucks.

  7. William Mougayar

    “I am sounding like a broken record on this…”You’ve been consistent with this strategy of yours, and I don’t think it’s a broken record. It takes supporting computer science education via multiple places & programs to make a difference.Yesterday evening, I went to support a women-focused Hacker You event in Toronto and it was amazing to see 80% women in a group of 200 developers.

    1. Twain Twain

      Yay, Hacker You and William!

  8. Twain Twain

    The program’s changing perceptions which is really powerful.Student 1: “I thought when you do CS I thought of most people working alone. But as I went through CSTUY I realized it was more social and you need a lot of people skills.”Student 2: “I really liked this program not only because of the program but you get to express so many emotions. You’re coding, you’re also social too.”Curious about why pledges under $500 are “Ships only to US”? What about people who may have connections to NY (family there, previously worked there) but live elsewhere — yet still want to sponsor the project?

    1. Devorah Zamansky

      We are trying to put the bulk of the funds into the program – shipping the swag outside the US will take too large a percent of the proceeds. That said … I’m happy to ship the hand knit sweater anywhere you want for the right donation!

      1. Twain Twain

        A-ha, got it, thanks.By the way, knitting’s like coding. We start with just some string and tools…Before we know it, we’ve created a wealthy tapestry of info on the canvas!

  9. Shalabh

    This is awesome :-). I am heading to New York today. What better way to make a contribution to the city!

    1. awaldstein

      Enjoy–its an awesome morning and just go back from a very early very long bike ride.

      1. Shalabh


  10. Anne Libby

    I didn’t know that not-for-profits could run projects on KS. Bravo.

  11. JimHirshfield

    “The godfather of computer science education in the NYC public schools is Mike Zamansky”Make’im an algorithm he can’t refuse.

  12. Russell

    @fredwilson:disqus – thank you for continuing to highlight this important issue. I appreciate your gentle nudges to support great programs and just contributed. I hope the rest of the bar put money into the tip jar too, hint hint!!!!

  13. Mike Zamansky

    Fred – thanks for sharing this and helping get the word out. Both you and this community have done so much for the kids of NY directly and indirectly and those of us in the trenches really appreciate it.I don’t know about “godfather,” though – I’ve come to think of myself more like the old bluesman on the corner.

    1. LE

      Mike, let me help you with some PR here. When the NY Times writes an article, or 60 Minutes does a story about what you are doing, it’s going to be great when the narrator says:”Zamansky, called by Fred Wilson ‘The godfather of computer science education in the NYC public schools'” is ….. I can hear Steve Kroft’s voice now saying that in my head right now. Kroft will then follow up with “Zamansky prefers to be known more as “the old bluesman on the corner”.

    2. Dave W Baldwin

      good job!

  14. Adrian Frimpong

    “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.”Live several other voices on this thread, I don’t believe this can be said enough, @fredwilson:disqus@zamansky:disqus : I highly recommend looking into ScriptEd if you haven’t already. Local devs and software engineers volunteer teaching web development and CS fundamentals across the city to high schools that don’t have a CS program.Seems like a strong opportunity for cross pollination of generally good ideas.

    1. Mike Zamansky

      @Adrian Frimpong:disqus – We’ve already started working with ScriptEd. They sent some of their kids to our summer program and we’re looking to work together more as we both move forward.

  15. Tal Lev

    I’m in! I’d love to figure out how to expand this program to Newark, where it can have an even greater impact, possibly in combination with our new seed-stage accelerator.

    1. Mike Zamansky

      Tal,We still have a way to go to get it funded but I’d love to chat. Drop me a line – [email protected]

  16. Varadh Jain

    Fred and community,Thanks for sharing this Kickstarter!Would love it if you all check out also something called who’s premise is bringing Hackathons to underserved schools starting in LA. Justin Brezhnev (23 now) left the coworking space he started to do work on this nonprofit full time. As always he’s looking for support from more and more people and if any of you are interested in helping in any way you believe to be valuable to the program, I’m sure he’ll be delighted!Thanks for listening,Varadh

  17. Ben Lucier

    Thanks for calling this out Fred… love the idea and have contributed to Mike’s project. If real-estate becomes an issue I might be able to help there too.

    1. Mike Zamansky

      Thanks Ben. We’re no where near real-estate ready but if and when we get to that point I’ll happily reach out. Right now, and St. Joseph’s college have graciously provided us with space for our programs

  18. Matthew Strax-Haber

    I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for Mike Zamansky (we affectionately call him “Z”) and his computer science program. Most of my friends from Stuy didn’t go into Computer Science, but almost all of them have great things to say about the CS program and how it helped prepare them to approach the problems of a technology-filled world with logic and planning. Those of us that know Z add in that he is a great mentor and connector for people geared towards accomplishing things.I threw in $100, and encourage all of you to do the same (or more if you can afford it!). This is one of the most worthy charities I know. Forget the stickers and shirts — the real perk is knowing you are making a real positive difference on the lives of young people that will lead the improvement of tomorrow.

    1. Emmanuel Schanzer

      Matt, I didn’t know you were a Stuy grad!!!

  19. sigmaalgebra

    Lots of kids learn piano, violin, ballet, basketball, football, soccer, baseball, video games, dress making, artistic photography, etc. without a Kick Starter project.The house next to mine on one side has two teenage boys, and they practice basketball all the time. On the other side, same story. Kick Starter? I don’t think so!I know; I know; need Kick Starter for the poor, Blacks. Right. Sure we do. Just like we need Kick Starter for basketball in the poor, Black neighborhoods? Those guys are so good at basketball it’s beyond belief — if it was math they were working on, then by the time they got out of high school they’d be ready for their qualifying exams for their math Ph.D.IMHO, what the kids could use, for computer programming, and all the rest of the STEM fields, business, people, politics, etc., is just some guidance.IMHO, a large fraction of the kids are just awash in desire to learn. IIRC, one of the standard motivations of kids is to rush to get adult levels of competence so that they will feel less helpless.I know I wanted to learn about chemistry and was very highly motivated. So, to a local town library, I rode my bicycle, picked a text on chemistry, and tried to check it out — the librarian said “No”. Still, with okay guidance, I could have learned a lot of chemistry, safely.Math? I’d picked up that that was important. So, starting in the ninth grade, I worked hard at it, usually much harder than needed just to do well in the courses. Yes, I got really good SAT scores in math and physics. But with just some guidance, I could have done much better.The kids need guidance more than Saturday hack-a-thon sessions. I can’t see that they really need Kick Starter programs at all. Again, they can learn violin — believe me, nearly anything in violin is one heck of a lot harder to learn than basic computer programming — I’ve done both, and neither because I was told to or in a program of any kind; instead I just wanted to and taught myself with little to no outside help.And, let’s call it computer programming and not computer science: So, do the kids understand the Gleason bound, O(log(n)) in AVL trees? P versus NP? BNF? Parser generators? Semaphores? LALR parsing? How relational database can do backup while still executing transactions? How transactions work? How the log file works? What ACID means in relational database? I thought not.Now the hot fields are data science and machine learning, but done at all well those fields are really just some non-trivial applied mathematics. Too soon the kids will learn that they need, really, at least most of a good, carefully selected undergraduate major in pure and applied mathematics. So, get on with that. So, it’s algebra, plane geometry, trigonometry, solid geometry, calculus, abstract algebra, linear algebra, advanced calculus, ordinary differential equations, physics, differential geometry, optimization, measure theory, functional analysis, probability, stochastic processes, statistics, etc.Guidance!

    1. LE

      Kids take up and spend time on what they are good at and what they get reinforced with vs. what they are not good at and get no reinforcement or pleasure doing. [1] As such you are simply not going to have a situation where a kid who is good or enjoys playing sports decides to spend his time hacking or learning physics when he can be the shit with sinking baskets and think he will be the next [insert name of some player here]. Human nature. Unless he is just so super duper that he can do both. You know that is an edge case of course. Water flows to the easy route unless it overflows.In my simplistic view of how the world works for 90% of the kids growing up these are the basic rules.1) Someone good looking, social and well liked will have less time for school work.2) Someone good at a particular thing (like music or sports or acting) will spend free time doing that because they get reinforced.3) Someone who is not #1 or #2 if able (note a big “if”) will spend time on something else and might actually get good at it.If Fred were 6’8 we would not be discussing this here in other words.I wasn’t good at sports and wasn’t social and didn’t get reinforced that way so since I was motivated I spent my time doing other things to keep myself busy. My sister on the other hand was very social and attractive and spent countless hours on the front steps of our house with her group of friends. So she didn’t do as well in school and to this day spends a great deal of her time in social situations (likes going to funeral parties for example holy shit.) Went back later to get advanced degrees though. Has a great job and turned out fine.The best that any of these programs can try to do is take the kids with potential and expose, reinforce and motivate them so they can see what else is out there. But must have potential. And most likely the amount with potential is quite small I am guessing. Doesn’t even matter ghetto or middle class.Another thing is in many neighborhoods (and this could be white, black or whatever) there is the influence of peers and family quite obviously. Different set of values just like we have here on AVC in our “group” which varieds. That type of thing gets brainwashed into you and is hard to get away from no question about that.[1] Other cases of course. Some kids play and aren’t good but get into the friend thing and are more lemmings anyway. Sure perhaps it’s because they are not exposed to the “other life” but let’s face it that is perhaps a small part of it for many.

      1. sigmaalgebra

        There’s a lot in common in what we are saying.

    2. Matt Zagaja

      In my town and school system “kickstarter” was when parents, wealthy people, and business owners in town pitched in to make sure certain programs happened. If a group of students did well at an engineering competition the teachers knew who they could turn to make sure that the plane tickets or hotel rooms were funded so everyone that was involved could participate. Kickstarter (and DonorsChoose) is a new twist on an old tradition.One day I hope to be successful enough to be able to give a lot back to the communities that I’m in. I try to at least give back with my time where I can.

      1. sigmaalgebra

        > timeYup.Money? Pass out copies of Kernighan and Ritchie (aka, K&R). That will impress lots of computer industry guys with gray in their beards and also help with C Python which builds on C.Give them encouragement.And as I mentioned, give them guidance — e.g., reading lists.Then, with an okay computer and an Internet connection, they should be good to go — not much more needed.In a sense, asking for Kick Starter is a detour and stains over gnats and forgets elephants. Or, there is the old remark, it’s not a spectator sport. And, really, directly, neither is it much of a social activity.For parents helping, yup, things like that did happen. But, again, once again, for computing, my view is that what is really needed is guidance. Did I mention guidance? It’s guidance. Not really a lot of stuff as described in Fred’s post with some guidance but, really, little or nothing more than just guidance.Did mention basketball — some kids do really well without any Kick Starter and often with essentially no guidance. For computing, the main way to help is guidance, just guidance. Motivation? In the US today, there’s next to nothing for kids to be more motivated about to get on with their desire, really their fanatical drive, for adult competence, than computing.For more, sure, my wife was brilliant at academics. Valedictorian, PBK, Summa Cum Laude, and more.So, in high school, sure, maybe she could have used some advanced material from some tutoring. Well, it just so happened that the Chair of the local school board agreed, strongly. The Chair? Sure, her father! So, she got some advanced tutoring. So, right, parents getting involved is an old story.

  20. Andrew

    Having had Mr. Zamansky (still feels odd to call him “Mike”) as a high school teacher, I can say that his work with Stuyvesant’s CS department has changed my life for the better. He has helped me and many of my friends become skilled programmers and generally better people.Because of him, this summer I was able to land an Internship with a fantastic startup in NYC that was co-founded by a Stuyvesant Alumnus and has many alum employees working there (SumAll, Inc.). I was their first younger-than-college-level intern, and I received extremely positive feedback from them. I can absolutely attribute the success I have had in the CS world to the department Mr. Z has built at Stuy.The Saturday hacking sessions are absolutely fantastic, and I encourage you to check out to learn more about what they do.

  21. Vincent

    a year ago, we have black hacker and white hacker. now we had hacked education ( hacking education) so funny…. even if…good luck to you. it ll better to learn together online and campus.

  22. awaldstein

    agree.ageless marketing rule–when you think everyone knows your story, start over and do it again.

  23. fredwilson


  24. Russell


  25. awaldstein

    We all are all the time.Myself included.

  26. Richard