Can a guy in his sixties who has never studied modern computer programming introduce a group of computer-savvy young people to software coding — and do it in a foreign language?
That’s what I did on Friday at our library in Ialoveni, Moldova. (A few hours later, they posted this story about it on Facebook; the live version offers an English translation):
I got the students started with Hour of Code, an international initiative through which millions of young people have begun learning about programming. My group watched a couple of inspirational videos and then began writing mock code for the popular computer game Minecraft. Within a few minutes, they were clicking away, instructing their characters to move in different directions, shear sheep and search for treasure.
Several of them finished the 14 tasks in less than an hour. All were engrossed, smiling when they completed a puzzle and giving me high fives as I walked around the room to help them out. Before we even finished, the librarian told me we should start a weekly Hour of Code club, which we’ve scheduled for 2:30 p.m. on Wednesdays.
Launched in 2013, Code.org is a nonprofit organization focused on making computer programming more accessible. Its videos feature Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and other famous programmers, as well as President Obama, actors, sports stars and others, all emphasizing that coding isn’t as hard as you may think.
That’s a message more young people, especially girls, need to hear in our own country, Moldova and around the world. Coding is an increasingly essential skill. Especially in poorer countries, it can open the door to participating in the global economy. Here in Moldova, older girls can also take part in GirlsGoIT, a two-week program through which they learn about web applications, entrepreneurship and potential career paths. Around the world, Peace Corps is deeply involved in the Let Girls Learn program championed by First Lady Michelle Obama.
Back when I was running Duke’s news office, one of my colleagues wrote an article called Computer Science Looks Beyond Nerds, describing how the university redesigned its introductory course to attract more women, students of color, liberal arts majors and others who don’t fit the stereotype of programmers. Hour of Code is pursuing the same mission internationally. Its resources make it easy for people to serve as mentors regardless of their own level of coding experience.
Even if you’re “not exactly retired” or majored in American history like me, do yourself a favor and try some of the modules yourself. They’re fun. And if you know any students in Ialoveni — especially girls — looking for something interesting to do on Wednesday afternoons, send them my way. We still have a few spots open.