Hadi Partovi had a revelation after speaking with United States 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.
Thankfully, 20,000 software engineers have also contacted Code.org to volunteer their skills.
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.
Code.org is a nonprofit foundation dedicated to growing computer programming education.