Big tech aims at talent shortage with 'Hour of Code' campaign

Reuters News
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Posted: Dec 15, 2014 2:27 PM

By Deepa Seetharaman

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Call it the thinking man's ice bucket challenge: an hour of code.

Last week, everyone from U.S. President Barack Obama to top model Karlie Kloss tried their hand at writing software for one hour in the global campaign by nonprofit Code.org to make coding less intimidating to students and teachers.

The "Hour of Code" campaign, which ended on Sunday, was the latest step by large tech companies to help boost American interest in computer science as they face a shortage of qualified engineers and developers in the United States.

Code.org, which offers online tutorials in coding, has the financial backing of tech leaders, including Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg, who have called for more computer training in schools and U.S. immigration reform to allow more programmers and other technology specialists into the country.

The nonprofit also raised just over $5 million to expand the "Hour of Code" to 100 million students worldwide in a crowdfunding campaign that ended on Sunday. Google Inc, Salesforce.com Inc and others have agreed to match donations made to the Indiegogo campaign, according to Code.org.

More than 75 million people have used Code.org to study code since December 2013, when it launched the first weeklong "Hour of Code" campaign.

Last week, Obama wrote his first line of code: "moveForward(100);", enabling Elsa, the character in a video game based on Disney's hit animated film "Frozen," to move forward 100 pixels. Code.org now plans to sell T-shirts printed with that line of Java script, said angel investor Hadi Partovi, who founded Code.org last year with his brother, Ali.

The nonprofit says just 10 percent of U.S. schools teach computer science. Partovi said many students and teachers are under the mistaken impression that coding is for geniuses.

He added that the coding campaign is part of a larger effort to get every U.S. school to add computer science to its curriculum rather than help tech giants hire engineers.

"We're getting third-graders to code," said Partovi, who worked at Microsoft and has advised many companies, including Facebook. "Who knows if any of these corporations will even exist when these kids graduate from college?"

(Editing by Jonathan Oatis)