Interview by Ray Fontaine
Understanding code provides abundant creative opportunities across a wide variety of industries. CodeHS strives to give more students the chance to learn how to use code. In school we study reading and writing, but most people do not become professional readers. Many jobs, though, require basic literacy. CodeHS founders, Zach Galant and Jeremy Keeshin, say "Read, Write, Code" represent the most crucial foundational skills for the 21st century. Clever Tech Digest sat down with Zach Galant, to learn more about the platform CodeHS is building for the next generation stand on.
CodeHS implements high quality computer science programs around the world by providing great curriculum, tools, training, and support to public, charter, private, and international schools. CodeHS is a comprehensive and interactive computer science education platform that can be scaled and adapted for different schools' needs.
For readers unfamiliar with CodeHS, how did this coding “class in a box” concept begin and what inspired your unique curriculum?
When we started CodeHS, we spent a lot of time visiting schools and working with students and teachers. We've visited over 100 schools across almost every state to see what schools and computer science classes are like, so we can learn what is actually helpful for teachers and what works for students. We speak with teachers and students every day who spend all of their time teaching computer science and try to make the necessary tools to help them succeed. Our goal is to have everything you could possibly want or need all available in one place.
What are some computer science occupations outside of becoming a programmer for students to explore? Why should educators expose students to computer science and how it relates to their future before they go to college?
I believe that coding can be applied to any industry. We actually started a blog called Coding in the Wild (https://codinginthewild.com/) to highlight real people who use coding in their jobs across many industries from economics to music to chemical engineering. The thing to realize is that software is taking over many industries and if you know how to code, you can have a hand in shaping that. You don't even need to be a professional programmer. Even just knowing what it's about and what possibilities it opens can give you ideas that can make a difference in whatever field you care about.
What are the main limitations and obstacles you face developing a fun, engaging, and flexible education platform for computer science? How have you overcome them?
Education is very local. In different regions, schools and teachers do things differently and their needs can vary drastically. Some teachers want a curriculum that they can use as a turnkey, others want to make everything from scratch every year, and many lay somewhere in between. It's a challenge to make a product that effectively accommodates all of these varying demands. Every day we think about how to build a product that is flexible enough for any computer science teacher to use and get value from.
What principles guide your team while creating computer science education tools and growing the business?
Our main guiding principle is to build a comprehensive computer science education service. We do whatever necessary to ensure our customers’ success. This may include visiting their schools, talking on the phone weekly, having conversations about how to help a struggling student, or building exactly the resources and tools teachers need. We want CodeHS to be indispensable to teachers. CodeHS should be so helpful that you couldn't imagine running your classroom without it.
How will increasing computer literacy bring more people together, and change the structure of our economy?
Think about an economy where the majority of people don't know how to read or write. That leaves them completely without the opportunity to be successful or have any influence. A similar gap exists between those who can understand code and those who can't. You don't necessarily need to be an expert programmer, but if you know enough, you'll be able to see opportunities in ways you couldn't have imagined otherwise.
What is your dream for a better global education system?
Right now, I'm focusing on making an amazing experience for teaching computer science in schools. However, I think that there are many significant areas of improvement for the education system as a whole. I think it all starts with teachers. In the US, teachers are overworked and underappreciated, but they are often the most influential people in young people's lives. Teachers should be celebrated and revered. I think that the key to improving education for the most people in the most effective way is to get the best and brightest to be teachers and to take an interest in the lives of young people, inspiring them to love learning and do good.
What question do you wish I had asked?
I'd be happy to talk more about why we care about making CodeHS an awesome place to work for our employees and how we think about doing that. It's less related to our external facing product or market per se, but I think it’s very important to make the organization a great place that attracts the best people who will create the most impact with their work. This relates back to my thoughts on teachers and improving the education system.