To celebrate Computer Science Education Week (CSEW), the Charleston County Academic Magnet and School of the Arts sought out the Charleston Digital Corridor (CDC) and some of its partner tech companies to participate in an Hour of Code event with their students. The Hour of Code promotes CSEW and provides educators with engaging beginner coding activities to expose students of all ages to computer programming basics.
Last Friday afternoon nearing the end-of-day bell in the auditorium of these partnered Charleston schools, representatives from Blue Acorn, BoomTown, and the CDC presented a group of middle and high school students with an hour of code. Andrew McGuier, a software engineer from BoomTown, began the hour with a presentation about the company, explaining what they do and what kind of talent they’re looking for. Students need to understand the diversity of jobs in the tech industry. A company like BoomTown isn’t just looking for Programmers, but they need Designers, Quality Assurance Specialists, and even Content Creators.
Shawn Foster, a developer at Blue Acorn and one of the central instructors at CODEcamp, walked the students through building a color selector using CodePen, a coding education tool,. The computer science students were sitting on the front row correcting his lines of code by shouting out things like “you missed the semi-colon!” The enthusiasm among the students was palpable, even from those asking what pixels were.
Jon Phillips, the computer science teacher at the Charleston Academic Magnet, pitched the idea of computer science courses about a decade ago. He had been working at Blackbaud and decided to take some programming classes to see what they were all about. He learned enough to design a curriculum around the AP Computer Science course, using computer game programming to teach his students the fundamentals. “I’ve got the most unlikely computer programmers in there. I have cheerleaders. kids from the poetry group and everything else. They love it. They’re asking me questions; they’re emailing me in the middle of the night. It’s a really cool experience,” Phillips said.
Susan Hanley and Lynn Kramer, the media specialists at these schools, have been working to get the students involved in coding. “The kids had such enthusiasm and a lot of them were already coding so I thought we should reach out and see who we could get to come today,” Kramer said. The Charleston County Academic Magnet will graduate 20 or 25 computer science majors this year, and many of them will go on to get scholarships in or out of state to study just that.
Although the demand in the industry continues to grow, the trend of students earning Bachelor degrees in computer science has been declining. The Hour of Code is extremely important in piquing the interest of our youth for suitable careers, which will inevitably be tech-related. The Hour of Code, a code.com initiative, had 15 million students worldwide participate last year. Not only is it geared toward our youth generally, but it specifically targets women and minority groups.
Carolyn Finch, Program Director at the Charleston Digital Corridor, is the person largely responsible for the transformation that CODEcamp has undergone this past year. She told the students “Maybe you want to major in it in college but you’re not quite sure. CODEcamp is a great way to see if you like it. The ultimate user is everybody…companies want to see more women and minorities in these professions.” When Finch asked the students who was considering computer science as a major in college many hands flew up, most of them belonging to girls.
Nina Magnesson of BoomTown said, “We want to help give Charleston students the opportunity to fulfill the high demand for computer science engineering and other related positions that the nearly 300 growing tech companies are providing in the Charleston area alone.” Programs in school are crucial to filling the talent needs here in Charleston. The industry is growing and changing fast enough that if these high school students learned enough about programming in their extracurricular time they could get a job right out of high school.
The Charleston talent pipeline is slowly being built up by code education initiatives like CODEcamp and the Iron Yard Academy, but children need to be reached at a younger age. The Hour of Code is an international call to action to do just that, and the Charleston Digital Corridor and its partners “hope to expand the presentation and bring it to as many other Charleston County Schools as possible throughout 2015,” said Magnesson.