The conversations I tend to be involved in about underrepresentation in the technology world are about the gender divide. At Kids Code Jeunesse we’re very conscientious about designing our activities and honing our pitch so we include girls. And in my own reading and thinking (probably colored by who my 2 oldest kids are) I pay particular attention to the ways we can make technology and “computational thinking” accessible to girls.
There’s lots of interesting stuff to think about there: which applications of tech are likely to appeal to girls (and yeah, they are different than for boys); how to teach in a way that resonates with the expressive side of a kid, rather than the purely rational side; and more.
But of course there are other divides too, and here’s a great story out of Baltimore about a year-round code camp directly targeted at minority boys: the Minority Male Makers Program (via npr.org). It’s being rolled out at a handful of Historically Black Colleges in the American south that have engineering schools: Morgan State U., North Carolina A&T State U., Jackson State U. and Kentucky State U. as of summer 2015. Guided by undergrad students at those schools, these kids get to design, engineer, 3-d print, and code their own ideas and products.
This is not the only program of its kind–see the Boys & Girls Clubs of America and AmeriCorps teaming up with CS First, and others. And they’re doing a few key things right:
They’re reaching kids at middle school age. They rightly point out that this is their last shot at reaching kids before their path toward adulthood (and higher education and professional life–if any) starts to solidify and accelerate. Influence them here, show them it’s possible to be creative and use their brains for good, hard things, and you stand a good chance of influencing their choices in next few years. And then they’ll be on a good, productive path.
They’re letting the kids make real things starting right now. With programming, modelling software, and 3d printers in the classroom, this is tinkering with real stuff. Look at the press release and see that these kids are walking out of the classroom with the objects they’ve made. There is no 4-year lecture-driven book learning period, no extended apprenticeship standing between their adolescent selves and being real-world-productive.
They’re looking specifically for kids who show signs of being disengaged and bored in class. They know that disengagement isn’t a sign of being stupid; it’s a sign of needing a more active, hands-on learning method than the school is set up to deliver.
And the NPR article suggests that, rather than opening it up for open registration, they are asking school principals and counselors to bring them students. This is a great way to (1) encourage administrators who are engaged with their students and know them well, and (2) sidestep the self-selection that attracts self-motivated geeky boys to code camps. We have plenty of those already. 🙂
Bootstrapping the talent pool
I love seeing programs like this, and the overall philosophy is what attracted me to the Kids Code Jeunesse team. All programs of this kind are trying to bootstrap the tech talent pool in a very conscious way. Malcolm Gladwell might say these are ways to solve our talent selection problem, our “quarterback problem.”
If we want to change the complexion of the tech industry and what it produces, it will have to be through initiatives like this: initiatives that intentionally reach everyone, or that intentionally reach underrepresented groups.
If we can keep those going, the tech industry will not only look different in its makeup and its atmosphere; it will start producing output that’s better and that speaks to a wider range of people.