Why I started CodeReno.org

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When I moved from California last year to the lower tax state of Nevada, my family and I decided to commit part of our tax savings to local charities. I grew up poor, and always felt grateful to be able to give back.

My focus is on (1) Food & Family services and (2) Education. I am particularly interested in areas that open up economic opportunities for those that want to work hard and achieve a better future.

As a kid, in elementary school, I received free school lunches, and my mom used food stamps to feed us. She put herself through school (with some help) and within a few years made enough to support her family in a solidly middle class lifestyle. A few years later, I watched her and my dad (step-dad) prepare amazing meals and take them to the park to feed the homeless. Helping them serve instilled the honor of being able to give back.

When I was introduced to the Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services organization by Pat McClain, their chairman, I was impressed by their commitment to serve the working poor – not with hand outs, but rather with an exchange. They invested in education for the whole family and they distribute food to families in need in a farmer’s market style approach (mostly organic food), they help parents get trained on computer skills, and help kids with homework, they teach urban farming, and parenting classes for expectant mothers… I could go on and on about all the smart things they do (read more about their approach http://www.sacramentofoodbank.org/).

With our move to Reno, we found The Children’s Cabinet (http://www.childrenscabinet.org/). My boys and I toured the facility and saw their emphasis on graduating students, and helping families and keeping children safe. Loved it. Donated to it.

As I began to think about what can make a difference in Reno, the challenge seemed deeply economic. I attended the Smart Cities presentation, which discussed how Reno planned to re-focus itself as a College Town, and increased coordination of economic development around EDAWN.

As I talked with people, and listened intently, it seemed to me that the city was focusing on bringing in a “white night” to save the day by hiring thousands of people with great paying jobs. This is one approach. Sure it is worth a try, but I think the key is a longer view of economic development that invests in our next generation, while creating the right ecosystem to support growth now and into the future. I am excited to see programs like Sontag Entrepreneurship Competition at UNR (http://www.unr.edu/sontag) and the Reno Collective, which creates a hub for small business to work and interact. But I think we need to do more.

Where will the jobs come from for this next generation?

Many of the jobs will need to be created by small business. Big business cut 4 million jobs since 1990, while small business added 8 million (source). In addition, many small business will be one person shows (freelancers). Many jobs don’t exist yet. If you told me in High School that in five years I would work for Wired Magazine figuring out how to analyze digital marketing, you would have gotten a blank stare — because that stuff didn’t exist yet.

When I think about these trends, I think about the value of kids learning coding, and entrepreneurial skills. The first reason is not so much that I expect that they will all become programers — some might. But the value of learning code and entrepreneurial skills is that it teaches kids that they can create something from scratch.

I have three hopes for the CodeReno.org effort. I want kids in our community to…

(1) Discover how to teach themselves — coding is just one relatively easy thing to learn. If they can do this, maybe they will know that they can pursue any area they set their mind to.

(2) Think critically – coding requires step by step logic and thinking about the system. It is easier for our brain to tap into the emotional decision making developed though the dopamine feedback loop than it is to abstract and think logically and methodically. Therefore, building up the practice of engaging our pre-frontal cortex and other systems engaged in coding is a good thing. It is highly transferable to other advanced problem solving fields (medicine, engineering, etc).

(3) Experience a sense of accomplishment – I’ve watched the joy on my kids face as they’ve shared something they created. The post below is one of the first projects my son created using scratch without any help from anyone. I want other kids to have that joy too. (That joy releases that dopamine response to make it more likely that they will want to pursue creating something again in the future).

On a practical note, coding may also become a great career option. According to stats on csedweek.org:

  • Software jobs outnumber students 3-to-1. The gap is 1 million jobs over 10 years- and these are some of the highest paying jobs.

The national average for CS degrees is 2.5% and UNR is only producing 1.3% currently. Even with the 2.5% there are not enough skilled programmers to fill the demand. Increasingly, this leads US companies (mine included) to hire foreign citizens, or offshore at least some of the programming jobs. As a leader of a company, I will take talent from anywhere. I care about the mind and the character of the person, not the passport, or any other factor. I have offices in Boston, New York, Los Angeles, and Norther California. I can typically find talent in one of these big cities, and have paid for work visas when needed. I am extremely grateful to the amazing people that take pride in being part of Marketing Evolution, and appreciate the diversity of perspective our international team brings. But as a US citizen, I have to ask, should we be doing more?

  • 90% of schools in the US do not teach computer science.
  • In many countries, it’s required (China, Vietnam, Estonia. Soon UK, Australia)
  • The basics can be learned by anybody, starting in elementary school. But fewer than 10% of students try. Only 2% are women. 1% are students of color.

As a Reno resident, I am thinking about what creates a great community here.

Good paying jobs here can help our community. If we have great talent here, then companies like mine will hire here. Or, maybe the great talent decides to create their own company, and it creates jobs. The more talent, the more entrepreneurial opportunities, the more economic growth. This is how we build a robust community of people capable of building the next great technology. Furthermore, if we become a magnet for great talent from all over the world that wants to live and work here in Reno, our community will be enriched.

CS are well paid jobs, that afford lots of flexibility — whether someone wants to work for a big company, create their own company, or work as a freelancer — or take the skills learned from coding into medicine, engineering, clean-energy, manufacturing, or whatever, it seems like a lot of upside for our community.

I am incredibly grateful to share a vision with UNR Professors, and students, and the ACM club. While each of us may have a slightly different take on why it is important, and why we are volunteering our time, energy and money, together we hope to create an on-going opportunity for kids in Reno to learn to code.

If you want to help, visit the CodeReno site, and click the “Raise Your Hand” button.

We can curse the darkness that that Reno is behind in producing CS and teaching coding, or we can ignite a candle and bring some light into the world. CodeReno.org is a candle. Will you help spread the light?

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