An hour doesn't seem like much time to learn how to do something consequential. But, what if that's all the time you needed to learn how to code?
That's the idea behind the Hour of Code movement from Code.org, a non-profit organization focused on encouraging participation in computer science. Hour of Code events are one-hour tutorial sessions available in 30 languages where students come to try their hand at writing their first few lines of code.
Lots of communities are looking for innovative ways to implement this, and Kentucky is trying its hand at using the campaign to inspire and catalyze students.
"The hour of Code is intended to get kids excited about taking their first steps for computer science education that they can continue either in the classroom or outside of the classroom," said Cameron Wilson, COO and vice president of government affairs at Code.org. "It's really to show every student, whether they are male or female, what their ethnic background is, that computer science is fun, it's engaging, it's exciting; and ultimately it's not something that's scary or that's only for a subset of the population to do."
Events can be hosted in anywhere and at anytime, but the bigger goal is for millions to try Hour of Code during Computer Science Education Week, December 8-14, 2014. Kentucky Coders is setting out to contribute a million coding events before then, starting at the 2014 IdeaFestival, an international event held in the state's largest city of Louisville (where the TechRepublic editorial department also has its global headquarters).
IdeaFestival is annual conference focused on innovation and big ideas. Kentucky Coders will launch its public awareness campaign on computer science at the conference, offering coding stations and opportunities for attendees to code on their own personal devices.
Nick Such, a co-founder at Awesome Inc. in Kentucky, saw a need for more software development professionals in his work with entrepreneurs. Such and his team heard people pitching business ideas that required software to be built, but struggled to find someone in their community to help them out. So, Awesome, Inc. decided to teach coding classes, and later partnered with Kentucky Coders to push computer science forward in the state.
"If we're going to make Kentucky a better place to start technology companies...we're not going to do that overnight, it's going to be a 20-year journey," Such said. "So, right now we're focusing a lot of our energy on middle schoolers and high schoolers. The people who, in the next 10-20 years, are going to be starting these companies and working as software developers."
In an Hour of Code tutorial, participants drag blocks around, instead of typing out traditional commands, to make an Angry Bird character move through a maze. Such said that it works to help build the logical processes needed to understand code. While it is geared toward students, the Hour of Code is an all-ages event where anyone can participate.
Among those planning to give coding a shot at IdeaFestival are twenty students from Louisville Urban League's Project Ready Program. The Louisville Urban League assists disadvantaged people through programs in workforce development, homeownership and housing counseling, and youth development. The students are attending as guests of Louisville tech company Net Tango, who will also speak with the students about STEM careers.
"Net Tango is excited to share our experience and passion for science and technology with these students. It's our hope that spending the day with our developers at the IdeaFestival will spark an interest that will open up new opportunities for their future," Susan Weiss, president and CEO, Net Tango.
While no one can possibly learn the skills they need to be a professional software engineer in one hour, the Hour of Code works more as an awareness play. Such compares it to a paint-your-own pottery, which works as a good opportunity for people to get into art, without needing all the tools, or to fully learn all the techniques beforehand.
"I think a lot of people don't even realize it's something that they could do," Such said. "I think there is this misconception that you need to be a super-nerd, and there's a very high amount of IQ required, and you have to have all this prior experience before getting started. We want to show people, 'Look, in a couple minutes you can write your first few lines of code.'"
According to the Code.org website, Kentucky is one of 23 states where students can take computer science classes for credit towards high school graduation. Recently, a bill was passed in the Kentucky Senate that will potentially allow coding classes to count towards a foreign language credit.
The goal of Code.org and the Hour of Code is to get computer science access to every school in the country. Wilson said IdeaFestival is a great kick-off for computer science engagement, but it will need support from educational institutions in the state to make a lasting impact.
"I think the major focus, for the next couple of months in Kentucky, should be to try to get every school to participate in the Hour of Code," Wilson said. "Ideally, we'd like every school to sign up to be a whole school participation where every single student is going to take an Hour of Code."
Conner Forrest has nothing to disclose. He doesn't hold investments in the technology companies he covers.
Conner Forrest is a Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He covers enterprise technology and is interested in the convergence of tech and culture.