Hadi Partovi had a revelation after speaking with President Barack Obama as part of an advisory panel on technology in December 2011. Partovi, a longtime tech industry player who had been an early investor and adviser for companies such as Facebook and Dropbox, spoke to the president for a minute or two about the importance of getting computer programming instruction into American schools.
“Right afterwards, I realized that I shouldn’t just talk about this problem,” Partovi says. “I should try to solve it myself, and I got more and more into it. Then as I got more and more into it, I realized it’s such a bigger problem than it seems.”
In January, Partovi and his brother Ali launched Code.org, a nonprofit organization “dedicated to growing computer programming education.”
Computer programming, or coding, is the process of developing a set of instructions for computers, so they perform certain tasks or exhibit specific desired behaviors.
Partovi’s long-term goal is to get computer programming classes into every school in the country. He views coding as an essential skill in today’s job market. Unfortunately, nine out of 10 schools across the country do not offer computer science courses. This means, Partovi says, that 90 percent of schools don’t teach the type of science that leads to 60 percent of jobs in high-demand, math- and science-related fields.
The public generally doesn’t recognize the lack of computer science courses, he says.
“The biggest issue in trying to solve this is that most Americans don’t even realize it’s an issue,” Partovi says.
Getting the Word Out
Code.org is getting the word out about the need for computer programming courses with its star-studded website and video. The video features tech industry all-stars, including Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg. These veteran programmers talk about how coding is necessary in today’s society—and not that difficult to learn.
Code.org’s website features testimony from supporters outside the tech industry, including former President Bill Clinton, Senator Marco Rubio, musicians will.i.am and Enrique Iglesias, and actor Ashton Kutcher.
Partovi says the wide range of voices shows that the issue is bipartisan and affects more than one sector of the economy.
“It was real important for me to help get the message across that this is not just a tech industry issue,” he says.
The Code.org website also allows teachers, principals, and superintendents to request help in adding or integrating computer programming classes in their schools.
Partovi says more than 10,000 schools have asked for Code.org’s help in implementing computer science classes.
Partovi says about 4,000 schools currently teach computer programming.
“We can more than triple that list in the country just by servicing the schools that have reached out to us,” he says.
One of Code.org’s next steps is to design a program that combines technology and teacher training. Another goal is setting up a complete database of all the schools that offer computer science courses.
Fixing the American Dream
Partovi’s knowledge of coding and computer programming has been what he calls an “absolutely critical” component to his success in the tech industry.
Growing up in Tehran, Iran, Partovi learned to code when he was about nine years old. It helped that his father was the first professor to teach at Iran’s top tech college, Sharif University of Technology. Partovi remembers his father buying him and his brother a Commodore 64 computer and encouraging them to program it.
“We just subscribed to some magazines and got a book and started learning how to code,” he says.
Partovi graduated from Harvard University with a degree in computer science in 1994. After college, his programming skills secured him a position at Microsoft, focusing on the Internet Explorer web browser. From there, Partovi was part of the founding team of several tech companies, including the music-sharing service iLike and telephone service company Tellme.
“A lot of the reason I was invited to get involved as an investor or adviser in the early companies like Facebook or Dropbox is because of my technical background,” Partovi says. “And also it’s a large part of why I recognized that these companies had something that other companies didn’t. Most non-technical investors would not be able to recognize the difference.”
Realizing that computer programming knowledge contributed greatly to his own success, Partovi sees the skill as essential.
And getting computer programming into schools “is a way that can both help the U.S. economy and fix the broken American Dream,” he says.
“For most people on Earth, the digital revolution hasn’t even started yet. Within the next 10 years, all that will change. Let’s get the whole world coding!”
—Eric Schmidt, executive chairman, Google
“If you can program a computer, you can achieve your dreams. A computer doesn’t care about your family background, your gender, just that you know how to code. But we're only teaching it in a small handful of schools, why?”
—Dick Costolo, CEO, Twitter
“Whether our children want to become farmers, doctors, teachers, or entrepreneurs, it’ll be easier for them to achieve their dreams in the digital age if they have some background in computer science. We need our children to learn 21st century skills for a 21st century world, and coding teaches them the creativity and problem-solving skills that are necessary for success.”
—Sen. John Thune (R-South Dakota)
“Learning to code unlocks creativity and builds confidence in students regardless of age, gender, or race. Computer programming can also be a teaching tool for other subjects, from physics to French. With today’s technology, learning to code is more fun and more accessible than ever, and America’s teachers welcome it into our schools and classrooms.”
—Dennis Van Roekel, president, National Education Association
“Kids who understand code are at the highest level of literacy in the 21st century. This will give all kids the tools to move from consumers to creators, enabling them for huge success.”
—Mario Armstrong, digital lifestyle expert and television host
“If you have a daughter, she should go be an engineer.”
—Meg Whitman, president and CEO, Hewlett-Packard
“I’d like to advocate for computer coding to be an institution in the public school systems right next to biology, chemistry, physics, etc. If we want to spur job growth in the U.S. we have to educate ourselves in the disciplines where jobs are available and where economic growth is feasible.”
—Ashton Kutcher, actor
person who offers informed advice about an issue.
set of ideals including personal freedom, equality, and the opportunity for economic and social prosperity.
including members of both major political parties (in the U.S., Republicans and Democrats).
study and process of writing and operating texts (codes) in programming language. Also called computer programming.
device designed to access data, perform prescribed tasks at high speed, and display the results.
study and process of writing and operating texts (codes) in programming language. Also called coding.
system of production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services.
person who plans the building of things, such as structures (construction engineer) or substances (chemical engineer).
to carry out plans.
a person or organization that gives money in order to gain a future advantage.
business that uses surplus funds to pursue its goals, not to make money.
something that is revealed, often in a surprising manner.
electronic programs of code that tell computers what to do.
the science of using tools and complex machines to make human life easier or more profitable.