Taking Action: 12 Children Get A Free 20-Week Computer Programming Course

One of the challenges even great speakers face is moving people to action. Great conferences full of great speakers can provide a lot of inspiration. Attendees are happy to spend the time and money on a good conference if they can get just a few “take aways.”

Everybody wants action, but it can be frustratingly rare.

Doing something for others

Alexis Ohanian, founder of the poular web site Reddit.com, got some quick action during his keynote address at the recent Business of Software conference in Boston – by moving others to act to help others.

His challenge: Tweet how you would make the world suck less with software. The winner, chosen by event organizers, gets a MacBook Air.

The winning tweets were the un-selfish ones.

Dharmesh is the founder of another very successful company. He didn’t need or want the prize. Richard’s idea tied in nicely with Dharmesh’s goal, but he didn’t want the prize either.


Enter Noel Clarke. He stepped up to bring these generous ideas into action, with a generous move of his own.

Noel reached out to the Lincoln School in Melrose, MA and offerred to teach a programming course to 5th grade students. So the school is getting a MacBook Air – and Noel is launching an early morning computer club that he will run for 20 weeks.

Following a curriculum designed by MIT, the course will shepherd young newbie programmers through the development of games, interactive stories, music and animation applications using the Scratch platform (also developed by MIT).

Originally limited to 8 students, Noel has since decided to allow all 12 applicants into the course.


I’m fortunate enough to know Noel, and doubly fortunate that one of my daughters will be taking this course (she’s pretty excited and has downloaded and started working with the Scratch software already). When I found out about all of this, I wanted to ask him a few questions and share this story. Hopefully it will inspire others to also take action.

What inspired you to step up and offer your time and expertise?
I have been thinking about teaching my daughter Abigail (4th Grade at the Lincoln School) about computer programming… and when Alexis Ohanian challanged the audience to do something that makes the world suckless it felt like the two ideas connected.

How hard was it to get the school on board with this idea?
Getting the school to agree was practically the easiest part – The Principal of the Lincoln School Brent Conway agreed after a simple email, and we had one face-to-face meeting where we discussed the details.

How long did it take from the moment this idea was popped into your head until the flyer was printed and kids were signing up?
It took two days! I sent an email to Mr. Conway on October 28 and by October 31st we met and agreed on the details.

What is your advice to others who want to make something like this happen?
As the twitter hashtag says #JFDI – “Just F’ing Do It!”

So there you have it. From idea to action in no time. Now, 12 children learn something new and useful. And maybe they become inspired to do more.

Who do you know taking action?

What can you do?

Photo credit: Horia Valran

Ease of use is a game changer

Making computers easy to use has had profound implications. The personal computer revolution fundamentally changed the way many people work, and gave rise to a whole new industry. Making the internet easy to use (creating the world wide web) fundamentally changed the way many organizations conduct business. Making the world wide web easy to use (Web 2.0, social media, etc.) has once again fundamentally changed the way many people communicate, connect, and work.

So, what if software development lands in the hands of everyman, in an easy to use fashion? What might the implications be? Consider this recent New York Times article that explores a new offering by Google, The App Inventor, which is designed to do just that on a mobile platform. Notice how Google uses words like “inventor” and “creator” – far less intimidating than “software developer,” and probably more appealing to the target audience (sixth graders, high school girls, nursing students, and non-science undergraduates are cited as beta testers).

The system works by allowing users to drag and drop graphical elements to build something useful. No programming at all. There is still a long way to go before platforms like these become truly easy for everyone to use, but it’s a good step in the right direction, and a particularly interesting one to watch because it’s designed specifically for a mobile platform.

Photo credit: practicalowl