On Thursday, October 17, 2013, OLC attended Tech In Motion’s Tech Education Panel featuring Reshma Saujani, founder of Girls Who Code; Evan Kurth, founder of HackNY; Eugene Lee, Senior Policy Advisor for Economic Development in NY; Anna Lindow, Regional Director for General Assembly; Michael Preston, Senior Director at Digital Learning at the Department of Education; and Leigh Ann DeLyser, Computer Science Curriculum Coordinator at AFSE. Sloane Barbour, Regional Director at Jobspring Partners, moderated the panel.
Sloane Barbour: Our event is all about tech education. We’re fortunate to be joined by some of the most influential in tech education. A million jobs for 400,000 students and a 30% jump in computer science jobs are forecasted by 2017. So, why is the problem so big?
Leigh Ann DeLyser: A lot of the problem is that the industry is growing too fast. A majority of policymakers in education space never took computer science. There’s no push from them to teach computer science in high schools. This is why computer science is not an option in some schools.
SB: Ten to twenty years ago, there wasn’t as big of a demand for computer science. With General Assembly, people make career changes. What do you do for them?
Anna Lindow: I’ve worked with people with PhDs to waiters and when people see an opportunity [regardless of education achievements or career paths], it’s easy to justify the pursuit. We have people coming to us because they’re aware of the job gap.
Evan Kurth: I see that we haven’t passed the peak of the 80s. After the internet bubble in the 90s, we don’t hear about outsourcing.
Reshma Saujani: There’s not enough push from policymakers. We don’t have a movement from our leaders to help students understand that this is where the jobs are at. We’re so far behind, I’d call it a crisis.
LAD: Think about your high school guidance counselor. These people are isolated from the business community. They are unable to see what’s going on and also because they are so busy help students at school.
Michael Preston: I go back to my father who worked in a lab—if you look at the pipeline, it’s about more exposure. If more kids see that and have access to computers, they would be more interested in computer science.
SB: What is NYC doing to address this problem?
Eugene Lee: From Bloomberg’s point of view, it was that we saw all across the board, the same problem. Companies are all looking for technical talent. It’s a tough problem to solve. One of the solutions is the Cornell-Technion Institute. I think we’ve been fortunate to have the partners we have now.
RS: You’d be surprised at the infrastructure problem that exists in education. For Girls Who Code, we had to think about the hardware problem. We need to think about how to deal with infrastructure problems that are very real in poor communities.
SB: How do you keep kids persistent with the program?
EK: One of the mistakes we make in college is that the 101 class starts with Java or Python. I think we need to inspire passion when they’re young. It’s unique to be motivated. You need to start as young as possible.
LAD: The idea of slugging through, that’s a misnomer. We need to understand what computer science is for kids in 3rd and 4th grade. We need to figure out what’s helpful to them.
SB: Your students are not kids at General Assembly. What different types of teaching has helped students push on with their education?
AL: For online education, there’s a lot to be seen. We have adult learners who lack typing skills—it’s even just helping them towards a path that means a potential career change in the future.
SB: How did you go about making computer science cool?
RS: Girls are more digitally engaged than boys. That trend shifts from age 7 to 8. We try to empower girls through technology and for the most part, it’s working.
EL: Our belief is trying to reach as many students as possible. Over time, as students pick up the material, we benefit from the private sector by guiding the sector and supporting the programs.