Students learn coding at Start Code.

By Grace Huseth

What do a phone app, microwave and car have in common? They all rely on code, a special computer language that makes the majority of the things in our world work. As technology continues to grow, more and more of our everyday items, jobs and enjoyment will benefit from coding. However, learning to use technology can feel like cracking a secret code.

Coding is simply a set of instructions that make your computer do what you want it to do, but finding the resources to learn to code is not so simple. Only 1 in 4 schools offer kids computer science classes and online learning doesn’t teach application. Since coding is essential, many believe computer science should just as important in core curriculum as other courses such as biology, chemistry or algebra.

Information technology guru Scott Blanck started a coding center for kids and teens in 2011 called Start Code. Here coding is taught in a flexible environment that combines class and lab time with mentoring. Students learn not only how to code and create with digital tools, but also learn how to apply these skills through projects and team activities.

“Our goal is to make it fun, but at the same time teach real languages that kids can go far with,” said Blanck.

Kids enjoy learning what’s behind the games they are playing and desire to design their own. Blanck was inspired to create a center that his middle school self would have enjoyed as well, and continues to foster creativity in a computer clubhouse at Toco Hills Shopping Center.

There is no typical day at Start Code. While the curriculum has clear learning objectives, students work at their own pace and are invited to jump around and use different code languages like Scratch, Python, Java, Processing, mobile app development and more. Students are programming games, telling multimedia stories and learning about technology.

Blanck said that learning to code is like learning a foreign language, starting with a foundation, applying the rules and then branching out to other uses.

“Similar to other languages, coding languages all have different strengths and weaknesses,” he said. “Learning one exposes your brain to a different way of thinking and it’s easier to pick up further ones from there.”

Many students start with Scratch, which teaches kids how to program by dragging and connecting blocks of text. Then they move on to more sophisticated languages including Python and Java.

Jobs in computer science are growing rapidly, and some students may not have to move far from Atlanta to find a good career using code. The Bureau of Labor Statistics Employment Projections says 71 percent of all new STEM jobs in Georgia are in computing. Georgia currently has 20,000 open computing jobs, 4.4 times the average demand rate.

“Atlanta is great for corporate or mid to large sized companies and hopefully we will grow on the smaller front as well,” Blanck said.

In fact, Blanck said any career moving forward will be affected by this computer science boom, from marketing to science, and from journalism to project management. The first step is to get everyone an introduction to coding.

One coding movement is code.org, a non-profit dedicated to expanding access to computer science. Each December the global crusade hosts ‘Hour of Code’ events that offer students a quick peek into the coding world for the first time. While they may not become computer scientists, they will have a leg up understanding emerging technology and how it applies to their passions.

“Having the exposure to coding gives you the opportunity to try it, and you may find something you really like,” Blanck said.

For more information, visit startcode.net.

 

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.