The best way to make American great is to equip our most talented kids with the tools to build the next generation of technology. The problem? Many public schools lack computer science classes. Steel City Codes founders Akshana Dassanaike-Perera, Joshua Zhou & Claire Shao have a solution: a coding-focused educational nonprofit led by kids, for kids. These teenage trailblazers join Alex and Bryan to talk about teaching Python to 9 year olds, the challenges and opportunities they face in the STEM education system, the secret to building an educational program kids actually enjoy, and their plans for future tech industry domination.

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Episode Transcript

Alex Roy
Welcome to No Parking. As always, I’m Alex Roy, here with my friend, roboticist…and really I love this guy, Bryan Salesky.

Bryan Salesky
Thanks Alex.

Alex Roy
It’s part of your name now. “I just love this guy.”

Bryan Salesky
Wow.

Alex Roy
And we’re joined by a bunch of high school kids from an organization called Steel City Codes.

Bryan Salesky
Really impressive kids.

Alex Roy
Really impressive. And it made me feel really guilty because when I was 13, I guess in 1984, my parents paid extra money, I think they paid $25 an hour for me to take a class in Logo.

Bryan Salesky
Oh wow. Really? Okay. That’s cool.

Alex Roy
And I learned Logo, a little bit of Basic and then the next level class – which was $50 an hour to learn it – was Pascal.

Bryan Salesky
Well these kids are learning the real deal with Python and Java and bunch of other languages, let’s face it, they didn’t make you feel guilty, Alex, they made you feel dumb.

Alex Roy
In fact, I felt like wow.

Bryan Salesky
Yes. I’m sorry, but I look at what I was doing at their age and yeah, I did not have those advanced skills.

Alex Roy
But to be clear, Steel City Codes is a high school student-led nonprofit focused on bringing computer science opportunities to students of all backgrounds. In other words, if your child’s in a private school, chances are there’s a computer science program there. There’s a robotics program there. And so kids who are smart, who are going to schools that don’t have such programs, often are just shut out of these paths. And Steel City Codes solves that.

Bryan Salesky
Yeah, you got to respect that they saw the gap. They wanted a place where they could learn from each other and teach other kids. And so they went and constructed their own group, and not only did they construct their own group and have it thrive, but they also realized there is a broader mission here and now they’re going to other schools to create different chapters all across the Pittsburgh area.

Alex Roy
Student organized, student run.

Bryan Salesky
Student organized, student run. Unbelievable.

Alex Roy
Bryan, how did you teach yourself robotics and coding when you were that age?

Bryan Salesky
I mean it was go to the bookstore, because the internet was kind of flaky at the time. Just chance, could you dial in or not? And yeah, I went to the bookstore, bought a book and just start reading and start playing around.

Alex Roy
The hard way.

Bryan Salesky
The hard way. Yeah.

Alex Roy
Does anyone do that anymore?

Bryan Salesky
Boy, I don’t know. That’s a good question.

Alex Roy
The hard way is always hard, so of course someone is. It’s like what Red Whitaker said like, “You want to, then start swimming.”

Bryan Salesky
Yeah. Start somewhere.

Alex Roy
That’s a metaphor for life. Well let’s hear what these kids had to say. I really like them. And your name is Josh Zhou?

Joshua Zhou
Yeah. Josh Zhou.

Alex Roy
And what is your role in this organization?

Joshua Zhou
I’m the Chief Operating Officer and Co-founder and basically I manage all the day to day and operations stuff. So I’ll coordinate with our different team members-

Alex Roy
But most importantly, how old are you?

Joshua Zhou
I am 17.

Alex Roy
These kids. Kids these days.

Bryan Salesky
I wish I could hire all three of them right now.

Alex Roy
And Akshana, how do you pronounce your last name?

Akshana Dassanaike-Perera.
Yeah. Akshana Dassanaike-Perera.

Alex Roy
And your role is?

Akshana Dassanaike-Perera.
Yeah, I’m the CEO.

Bryan Salesky
This guy.

Alex Roy
And how old are you?

Akshana Dassanaike-Perera.
17 as well.

Alex Roy
And Claire Shao. What is your role in this organization?

Claire Shao
Right now I’m the CFO.

Alex Roy
And how old are you?

Claire Shao
I’m 16.

Alex Roy
Just a cursory look at the website and reading up about them, they really do seem more qualified and serious than many people out there.

Bryan Salesky
Very serious. And they’ve got a great mission. Let’s talk about it.

Alex Roy
Who wants to explain what Steel City Code is all about.

Akshana Dassanaike-Perera.
I can do that.

Alex Roy
Akshana, let’s hear it.

Akshana Dassanaike-Perera.
So really what we are as a high school-led nonprofit, dedicated to educating young students in computer science and also increasing diversity in STEM education. And so we do that by offering free educational opportunities to elementary and middle school students where we teach them computer science.

Bryan Salesky
Is it possible to teach younger kids computer science in your experience then?

Akshana Dassanaike-Perera.
Honestly I think the biggest factor in terms of teaching the younger students is getting good high school students to act as mentors. Because if the younger students think that these high school students are cool, they look up to them. They’ll basically listen and do whatever they tell them to. So really just getting and recruiting that really good staff of high school students that act as peer mentors for the younger students is key.

Bryan Salesky
And the demand here was way bigger than you would’ve expected. Tell us the origin and how it grew.

Akshana Dassanaike-Perera.
In our first year we had one summer camp that was local to our school district, North Allegheny. We had about 80 students. And then this past summer we expanded that outwards to the greater Pittsburgh area, and marketed that through just word of mouth, emailing school districts, Facebook groups, that sort of thing. And we ended up having about 380 students attending our summer camps. But the demand was instant. Within the first week we had hundreds, within the first month we had to create a waiting list. I got almost as much enrollment as we did in terms of our camps. So really there’s a great demand for this.

Alex Roy
How old are the youngest students you have?

Akshana Dassanaike-Perera.
I would say about nine or 10.

Alex Roy
That is so killer. I remember when I was in high school. I’m 47 I remember when I was in seventh grade. There was one teacher in my school, a private school in New York city, and the teacher was like, “Okay, does anyone want to learn Logo or Pascal?” And that was it. That was like a big deal.

Bryan Salesky
That was advanced. I’m a bit younger than you Alex, and computer training in my school was how to type. Mrs. Marple, what was that typing school thing called? The typing program?

Alex Roy
We went to public school, right? You were in public school in Detroit?.

Bryan Salesky
Well, I’ve moved around a lot. But yeah, it was all public school. There were good schools. It’s just offering a programming class even at a high school level was I think questionable whether it was going to work, at least in my area.

Alex Roy
It’s is what this country needs.

Bryan Salesky
What we need. Yeah,

Alex Roy
Let’s back up for a second, Akshana and then I want to hear from each of you guys. When did you start coding? How did you get into it?

Akshana Dassanaike-Perera.
I started my freshman year of high school by taking an introductionary computer science course at our high school, and I really just fell in love with it. From there I decided to research on my own. I went into a little bit of Android application development just on my own time and really just got interested in computer science through that.

Bryan Salesky
Do they teach Python? Is that the first class?

Akshana Dassanaike-Perera.
Whenever I took it, it was C++, but I believe now our school’s actually changed to Python.

Bryan Salesky
Hey, C++ is still very relevant. Anyone who’s listening don’t get rid of your C++ curriculum. That’s what self driving cars are built on, all right. We need real time.

Alex Roy
How about you COO, Josh Zhao?

Joshua Zhou
Actually, I did a program the summer prior to ninth grade called LEAP and it was hosted by CMU. I don’t think they run it anymore. And that was where I started programming. That’s where I found my passion for it. And then from there, like Akshana, I just self studied, went into the different facets of it like web dev, app dev, all that type of stuff. And then from there it’s kind of blossomed into like what it is now.

Bryan Salesky
So what is it about programming that gets you excited? What is it about it that you like?

Joshua Zhou
So I just like making stuff, making stuff that will actually impact the world and seeing that product out there, people using it. That idea is like the primary drive.

Bryan Salesky
And I’m thinking about it, actually there was a programming class offered toward my last year of high school now that I think about it, and it was Pascal. And I don’t think I took it because a lot of kids were saying, “Oh, it’s just really hard. I don’t know that you can… Don’t take it, it’s so frustrating.” I should have never listened to them. Of course, it didn’t scare me from going into school for this field, but at the time it was like, I don’t need more hassle in my life my senior year, right? It turned out it was probably a bad decision on my part, but it’s not that bad, is it? For people who are thinking this is not something I can do or I’m not smart enough, what would you tell them?

Joshua Zhou
Coding is really easy to get into. There’s this stigma out there that’s like, “Oh, coding’s only for nerds or people who are good at math.” But anybody can do coding. And one of the things that we’ve taught these younger students is that anyone can code. They go into it and they’re like, “We’re usually kind of intimidated by it.” But when they’re with these high school students, I think at that peer mentorship form of teaching, they learn that, “Oh, this isn’t that bad.” And they’re also more willing to ask questions in this more lax settings. So it’s really great for both the teachers and the students.

Alex Roy
Claire, how’d you get into this?

Claire Shao
Both of my parents have careers involved with computers. And my mom is a software developer.

Bryan Salesky
And they didn’t talk you out of it?

Claire Shao
I would say I was first exposed a little bit in eighth grade, but I would say I got more into it my freshman year, and like the others I also pursued outside of school as well.

Bryan Salesky
Can you say more about what type of programming your parents do? I’m just curious.

Claire Shao
Right now, like where they work, I guess.

Alex Roy
I wouldn’t say that. Just in general, like what type of programming languages or what kind of applications, generally speaking?

Claire Shao
My mom mainly works with Java and right now she’s working on this voice recognition software for medical purposes at this company.

Bryan Salesky
Vocollect? Oh wait, no, they got acquired. Nevermind, now I’m guessing. Don’t answer that. Okay. Move on.

Alex Roy
We can’t explore these young people who are here to help with STEM programs. All right, so you operate these public school chapters, but you also operate summer camps? What does it cost to send a student to one of these camps? Is it free? Do you apply? How does that work?

Akshana Dassanaike-Perera.
We make sure to keep it completely cost-free for students that are trying to come to the camp. And the rationale behind that is we want to ensure that any student, regardless of economic background or any other circumstances, is able to participate and that money isn’t an issue. Obviously transportation does come up, but as of right now, we don’t have a really great solution to make sure that everyone is able to transport to our summer camps. But for the public school chapters that are afterschool transportation isn’t as much of an issue.

Alex Roy
If only there was a technology that one could use demonstrated coding-

Bryan Salesky
Don’t shame me. I know it’s not ready yet

Alex Roy
… to deliver these young people to the programs. I’ve seen these hackathons where the teams are from different schools. You guys field a team?

Akshana Dassanaike-Perera.
We don’t coordinate any hackathon teams, but we do have local hackathons that all of us have participated in and sometimes we go and see our former students wearing Steel City Code shirts.

Bryan Salesky
That’s bad ass. That’s really bad ass.

Alex Roy
So explain to me in greater detail, all right, you’re in school, how much time are you devoting in the average school week to running this operation?

Akshana Dassanaike-Perera.
Definitely a lot. For me it’s probably upwards of like 12 to 15 hours. Sometimes in the middle of class I’ll be distracted, like emailing various people or just like-

Bryan Salesky
Hey, you’re running a business, man. It takes work, right?

Akshana Dassanaike-Perera.
Yeah.

Alex Roy
Josh, what do your teachers say? They know, right? They know, they approve? They let you walk out of class. If they ask question, you don’t answer it because you’re doing work at school. What do they say?

Bryan Salesky
I’m busy changing the world is what you tell them, don’t you?

Joshua Zhou
I think they obviously… Do most of them know?

Bryan Salesky
We might have to cut all this.

Alex Roy
Let’s just keep going so we have it for historical purposes.

Joshua Zhou
Also, I’ll occasionally step out of class for a “bathroom break” and get on a call with someone I’ve connected with at different places or I’ll just spend some time, write some emails, do some cold emailing, that type of stuff. So yeah.

Alex Roy
How are your grades?

Joshua Zhou
They’re pretty solid. I’ve found a balance with like Steel City Codes and also my school work and other ECs I pursue. So yeah, I also do spend a lot of time with Steel City Codes, especially during the summer camp season.

Alex Roy
Well that’s easy because it’s summer camp.

Bryan Salesky
Hey, do you think we could put Alex Roy through like some sort of intro to programming course and have him teach? Do you think this would work? I don’t know. We tried to train him as a safety driver’s test specialist for us, he failed out of that just so you’re aware.

Alex Roy
Actually Bryan, that’s a great idea.

Bryan Salesky
I think it’s an amazing idea.

Alex Roy
I’ll go send someone to take it.

Bryan Salesky
That’s it. We’re doing it.

Alex Roy
Claire, do you have a background in financial instruments or accounting?

Claire Shao
I would say I have a pretty strong math background. I would say that has helped me just organize this. Obviously I’m learning new skills as I go, but-

Alex Roy
So is this the plan? Are you all going to go to college or just this is going to be like a business and when you graduate… Because you’re a senior, right? And you’re both seniors?

Claire Shao
I’m a junior.

Alex Roy
So what’s the plan?

Akshana Dassanaike-Perera.
I’m not sure about them, but for me my ultimate profession would definitely be tech entrepreneurship, basically exactly what Bryan’s doing. But I don’t know if I could ever willingly make a profit off of Steel City Codes and just feel good about it. I think just in terms of our mission and spreading education, it’s just something that I would rather not turn into a for-profit business model but rather focus on something else in terms of starting a company.

Alex Roy
So is it a 501(c)(3)?

Akshana Dassanaike-Perera.
Yeah.

Alex Roy
Right now, set up. There’s a board. Who’s on the board?

Akshana Dassanaike-Perera.
Right now we have three members. We have my mom, our computer science teacher at NAA, and then also like a CMU professor.

Alex Roy
Who’s the CMU professor?

Akshana Dassanaike-Perera.
I’m not sure if he counts as a professor, but he works in one of their robotics labs, it’s a create lab, Dr. Dave Litton. I don’t know if you know him.

Bryan Salesky
I do. I know of him. Yeah. Great guy. Awesome.

Alex Roy
I have to say I’m so impressed because I know so many people who sit around literally playing video games saying, “Boy, I could design a better game. I’m the best, yada yada. I’m on the board.”

Bryan Salesky
And then they don’t-

Alex Roy
And they just don’t do it.

Bryan Salesky
They don’t do anything. I also know people who have companies that don’t even have a board.

Alex Roy
And I also people with companies with boards that are inactive and don’t do any public good.

Bryan Salesky
Well, don’t be any of those people folks. This is amazing. So you are actively fundraising, Akshana? So tell us how that works.

Akshana Dassanaike-Perera
I guess for our summer camp it was mainly just cold emailing, cold calling as many companies as possible, just trying to recruit companies to act as sponsors so that way they can market and gain some publicity off of our platform while giving us the funds. But I think from there we transitioned to where we’re making a lot of connections. We’re being invited to various technology events and that sort of thing. So it’s a lot less cold emailing and cold calling, but much more following up on connections.

Alex Roy
All right, so let’s get behind the scenes. You go into these public schools, they have no one there who knows how to teach coding. Correct? So you train the trainers.What does this look like?

Akshana Dassanaike-Perera.
What we first do is try to find interested high school students with a computer science background. And then we do offer volunteer training sessions, sort of like orientation sessions so that way they’re completely ready and just adequate to teach and they’ll be able to handle all these issues. And then for schools that lack that, what we’ll try to find is high school students in a nearby area or nearby school district to then go to those schools. Because it’s just a lot of work for us to find high school students without any background in computer science to then teach them, get them all prepared, and then also train them to be-

Bryan Salesky
But that’s the power of the network, right? You can help school districts that aren’t quite sure how to even get started with this. Chances are no neighboring schools with people who are qualified and you can help them get started.

Akshana Dassanaike-Perera.
Exactly.

Alex Roy
Which one of you does the vetting of the trainers?

Claire Shao
That is me.

Alex Roy
And so what happened the first time you showed up? You’re 17?

Claire Shao
I’m 16.

Alex Roy
Okay. So what happened the first time you showed up and met some high school teachers and interviewed them?

Claire Shao
I feel like we started by going to AP computer science teachers and having them talk to their students about it. So I feel like a lot of our applicants, they had a good background knowledge in the first place, so we were able to start from there.

Bryan Salesky
What’s some of the questions you ask the high school students to make sure they’re qualified?

Claire Shao
Just make sure that they know how to work with kids because that’s also an important aspect of leading a summer camp and working with them for like-

Bryan Salesky
What are some skills they need to possess for working with younger kids?

Claire Shao
I would say that they just need to be really patient and it’s easy to assume. I feel like for a lot of these younger kids that they have a lot of background knowledge, but even for like certain math concepts, like some of our fourth graders haven’t learned some of the more advanced math concepts, so you just have to be willing to like start from the basics and just work up from there.

Alex Roy
Fourth grade.

Bryan Salesky
Fourth grade, but you have to be aware of who your customer is. In this case it’s a fourth grade student, right? So, yeah, good point.

Alex Roy
Wow, that’s fantastic.

Bryan Salesky
That’s pretty cool.

Alex Roy
So what happens next? When you graduate, you said you don’t want to profit from it. Who’s going to run the organization? Are you going to stay local to Pittsburgh?

Akshana Dassanaike-Perera.
No, we’re trying to expand outwards throughout the state and eventually to Tri-state area, country, nationwide. Josh and I definitely want to stay in charge of management, but we’re definitely going to find some younger leaders that are-

Alex Roy
Like Claire Shao?

Akshana Dassanaike-Perera.
Yeah. Like Claire, also in the grades below to stay onsite throughout the coming years. So we actually have people onsite that we can know and trust to run it.

Alex Roy
And so the organization started how long ago?

Akshana Dassanaike-Perera.
Two years ago.

Alex Roy
And at the end of year one, what was the operating budget?

Akshana Dassanaike-Perera.
We didn’t actually have any money whatsoever. We were completely free. Josh and I basically had to convince our school district to give us laptops, give us computers for free. We got our parents to act as the adult supervisors. So really everything we just had to convince people to give us for free because we didn’t have any money.

Alex Roy
And now that you’re into year two, is it still operating budget zero?

Akshana Dassanaike-Perera.
No. That’s actually increased. So in terms of our summer camp, we offered free lunch to students that would normally qualify for reduced such free lunch during the school year to get rid of that barrier for them. That costed some money. We got T-shirts, that costed money. And then now in terms of starting these public school chapters, our current model is where we find teachers to supervise these sessions.

Akshana Dassanaike-Perera.
Even though we have high school students teaching them, the teachers are there for liability reasons, and oftentimes we do need to provide compensation to these teachers because they’re not willing to volunteer their time.

Alex Roy
Wait, liability for…

Akshana Dassanaike-Perera.
Just for legal reasons. And if we’re running an afterschool program, we do need an adult there just present.

Bryan Salesky
We’re going to lawyer you up Akshana, we’re taking back the streets.

Alex Roy
Did you consult a lawyer or you just looked up the rules?

Akshana Dassanaike-Perera.
That’s mainly just school policy. These schools will not allow like after-school’s activities or anything affiliated with their school if there’s not an adult.

Bryan Salesky
We’ll have some words with North Allegheny.

Alex Roy
All right, since we’re talking, I imagine you are in a fundraising phase to grow the 501(c)(3). How much money are you looking for, and how do you want to spend it?

Akshana Dassanaike-Perera.
How much money are we looking for? I guess-

Alex Roy
Between 10,000 and $1 million.

Akshana Dassanaike-Perera.
Yeah, exactly.

Alex Roy
Okay. If you had $100,000 to spend, how would you deploy it to grow this program? And what is it?

Akshana Dassanaike-Perera.
Yeah, so really that money would definitely go towards either one, compensating teachers, or two, buying like materials for various school districts that are in need. So for example, if we’re expanding outwards to a school that might not have laptops, I think that a great purpose of our money would be to maybe buy them 20 or so laptops and obviously I’d probably try to negotiate with some company like Google, et cetera to get like discounted Chromebooks. So we’re really just trying to cut costs wherever possible and the money would just be used as an emergency fund for things that we just can’t get for free.

Alex Roy
Have you ever written a business plan for this? Is there a business plan?

Akshana Dassanaike-Perera.
We do have a business plan, but it’s not fully fleshed out just yet.

Alex Roy
Have you looked at business plans that would be a good example for this.

Akshana Dassanaike-Perera.
I think like franchising examples. Obviously we’re not a restaurant, but I think lots of restaurants do have really great franchising business plans because in terms of expanding outwards to other schools, we can’t exactly do that. But if we were to find like a student very interested, they could act as a store owner of like a restaurant franchise and then start a chapter which would be a new location of a restaurant.

Bryan Salesky
So if you create the structure of the curriculum, you’ve got a lot of the types of activities and sort of teaching methods, recruitment methodologies. These are all things that take work to develop, right? And if you can provide that to these chapters to help them get started, that’s a great way to scale these things out. That’s kind of what you’re thinking?

Akshana Dassanaike-Perera.
Yeah, exactly. We make our own curriculums and lesson plans because a lot of the existing ones are catered towards high school and college students, not really younger students. And so whenever we start these new chapters, when we franchise out, we do provide these interested individuals with all our lesson plans, kind of walk them through step to step on how to start everything.

Alex Roy
Now, when you first got started and into now the second year, how did you get the word out? What was the marketing component of Steel City Code?

Akshana Dassanaike-Perera.
Yeah, so I guess Josh handled a lot of emailing. If you want to talk about that-

Alex Roy
Josh, the COO.

Joshua Zhou
Yeah, it was just a lot of cold emailing like high school counselors, school district computer science teachers, also going on like Facebook parent groups like, “Oh we have this opportunity available for your students for free.” And just a lot of going on social media, going to different groups promoting, also going to computer science teachers, counselors and just promoting that through there.

Bryan Salesky
That’s a lot of work, don’t get me wrong, but did it take you as much work as you thought to get the reaction, to get the groundswell of support? I’m just curious.

Joshua Zhou
No.

Bryan Salesky
It took off pretty quickly?

Joshua Zhou
Yeah. After the first year… Most of it was word of mouth actually, so parents would talk to other parents and now we just kind of permeate throughout our area.

Alex Roy
It shows you the demand is there, and there’s obviously a gap for in particular getting kids at an earlier age into computer science. And I think that’s a huge, huge differentiator for what you guys are creating. It’s being able to provide something that… Look, anybody can buy a bunch of textbooks and sit a laptop in front of a high school student, but that’s way different than getting fourth, fifth, sixth graders to learn the principles behind logic and syntax and how to do basic things.

Alex Roy
And by the way, I should have asked this, at a fourth grade level, are you teaching them like actual Python or are you giving them kind of more basic… There’s these other languages out there that are kind of… I forget what they’re called, but they’re meant to be kind of a dumbed down programming language. Which path did you decide to take?

Claire Shao
Yeah, so we did teach the fourth graders Python directly. I know there’s like scratch that exists that’s more like drag and drop coding.

Bryan Salesky
That’s what I was trying to think of.

Claire Shao
Yeah. But-

Bryan Salesky
I love this. So, what gave you the courage to this? Because I think a lot of people would say, “Oh you can’t do that. They’ll never get it.” That’s BS, isn’t it?

Claire Shao
Yeah. I would say we kind of just tried to develop a lesson plan that was very straight forward for the fourth graders. And we knew that like at first it might take a little while to get them accustomed to what exactly coding is. But after they learned the basic syntax and that kind of stuff, it was easy for them to build upon that.

Bryan Salesky
Yeah. And the key here is like once they start to get it, I think they too quickly get frustrated with something like Scratch, because you can’t actually get the things accomplished that you want. So the fact that you’re giving them a fully featured programming language and getting them acquainted with the syntax and the basics at such a young age, it means that by the time they get to high school, if they stick with it, they’re probably hireable, let’s face it. You should still go to college.

Alex Roy
They also have a marketing video that’s at least as good as most of the stuff coming out of the autonomous vehicle sector. It’s title is actually why we do it. Do you know how much it would cost to hire a creative agency to come up with that title? Hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Bryan Salesky
The marketing, the branding, the website, the concept. It’s gold. You guys are awesome.

Alex Roy
Who manages your social media?

Claire Shao
Yeah. Right now I’m managing the Instagram page.

Alex Roy
How is that working out for you?

Claire Shao
I wouldn’t say that that’s the main focus right now, but we’re just trying to spread the word through social media because obviously that’s like a very powerful tool that we can utilize for the future.

Bryan Salesky
So Alex, do you think we can use the power of your social media account to get these guys a little more traction?

Alex Roy
Obviously. I’ll like and share from all of my platforms.

Bryan Salesky
Can we do something even more though? Could we give them a shout-out.

Alex Roy
Yeah. The shout out on Instagram is @SteelCityCodes. I see you have a little more traction on your Instagram than you do on your Facebook or Twitter. I am absolutely volunteering my time. I can’t speak for Bryan will say, outside of work. I would absolutely

Bryan Salesky
I will too. Absolutely. This is an imperative. We’re going to make this happen.

Alex Roy
Yeah. This is one of the… Because from New York, I find a lot of people support charities, but as an excuse to go to a party, like they actually don’t care what the output of it is.

Bryan Salesky
Chicken dinners.

Alex Roy
Whatever.

Bryan Salesky
The chicken dinner circuit

Alex Roy
Well, it’s a very good, good chicken. But I’m saying that most people who write checks, at least in New York, just don’t really care this, I would totally get behind. All right. How many students did you have in year one?

Akshana Dassanaike-Perera.
80 for our first summer camp, yes.

Alex Roy
And how many students in year two?

Akshana Dassanaike-Perera.
380 for our summer…

Alex Roy
I like that kind of growth.

Bryan Salesky
Yeah. Incredible. What does a fourth grader use as a text editor?

Akshana Dassanaike-Perera.
Yeah, so we use-

Bryan Salesky
This is a serious issue. It took me a while to learn VI. I’m a huge VI guy, now I’m going to have a bunch of haters, but yeah.

Akshana Dassanaike-Perera.
Either IDLE for Python or there’s an online service called repo.it, which is basically an online IDE. And so online IDEs, I think the advantage to that is that if kids want to show their parents at home, they can log in to their account that way and kind of access their code that they’re working on at our program while they’re at home.

Bryan Salesky
I’ve never used it, but does it have prompts and autocomplete and stuff to also kind of help them with the online editor?

Akshana Dassanaike-Perera.
Yeah.

Bryan Salesky
That’s nice. So you’re not bringing them into Emacs and writing macros and stuff.

Akshana Dassanaike-Perera.
No.

Bryan Salesky
We used to have a joke that Emacs users let the editor write the code for them. Have you ever seen people with their crazy Emacs scripts and stuff? It gets a little bit nuts. What are you guys using to to manage source code? Are you using GitHub or something?

Joshua Zhou
Yeah. We have students either download it onto a flash drive or they can upload it to a cloud service that’s like Google Drive or GitHub or whatever they may use. So yeah.

Bryan Salesky
Okay. Yeah. One of the things that I find… I mean I sit on different board of visitors for colleges and it’s surprising even at the university level how few classrooms are actually being taught how to do proper source code configuration management. And it’s a really important skill to have before you enter a professional workplace where you’ve got thousands of developers collaborating on one code base, right?

Bryan Salesky
At some point, my guess is that it would make sense to even introduce them at a younger age as just the concept of what a commit is and how to check in and check out code and get the mental model built up with something like that.

Alex Roy
So you guys, you’re Steel City Code on all platforms. Everyone should follow and like them. I’m volunteering my time. Bryan apparently is going to get behind them as well.

Bryan Salesky
I’m going to have to refamiliarize myself with Python. You don’t have a written code in a while. Boy, I’m going to have to study up here again.

Alex Roy
Good stuff. So the website is www.steelcitycodes.org. We can donate directly through your website. We should follow you on all platforms, preferably Twitter and Instagram.

Alex Roy
Thanks for coming everybody. We really appreciate your time. This was just such a cool initiative and we wish you the best of luck.

Bryan Salesky
I’m feeling really inspired.

Alex Roy
I too am inspired-

Bryan Salesky
And shamed a bit too.

Alex Roy
Motivated.

Bryan Salesky
Take care.

Alex Roy
Thank you. I have to say I feel a lot more optimistic after meeting these kids.

Bryan Salesky
It gives you hope for the next generation, doesn’t it?

Alex Roy
It does. It’s like so often the nonprofit groups exist to serve the reputations of the people writing checks. But sometimes a group is created and run by its own constituents.

Bryan Salesky
I just loved the energy and the ambition and drive that they had. They saw a problem and they just went at it and solve it. Love it.

Alex Roy
And it’s fun because I could see that all three of them-

Bryan Salesky
They had a CFO.

Alex Roy
I would probably have more faith putting any one of those three in charge of a team in almost any company than some of the adults I meet when I’m out at a conference.

Bryan Salesky
They were wise beyond their years.

Alex Roy
Yeah. I don’t want to name names, but you go in Lower Manhattan, you go to a restaurant in the middle of the day and you see all these worker bees at lunch and they’re talking about whatever they’re doing. And none of them are as honest as these kids were in solving a problem.

Bryan Salesky
The biggest thing is just the passion. You felt their passion for what they were doing, and you got to really appreciate that.

Alex Roy
Made me feel like I have no idea what I’m doing and I’m 48 years old.

Bryan Salesky
Hey, we’ve extended our helping hand to support these kids and many others in the areas where we are.

Alex Roy
You hired a couple of really interesting folks in the first days of Argo that I heard about. When you started Argo, did you have in your mind before you started a picture like if I was going to start a company from scratch, these are people I’d select, age irrelevant, these are just the best of the best, and some of them were quite young.

Bryan Salesky
Well certainly I knew people across all the different age ranges. Age is just a number. We look at it from can they help us contribute to the mission here and if they can, they’re hired.

Alex Roy
How old was the youngest person that you hired that you could say that about?

Bryan Salesky
I don’t actually know. I’m not sure.

Alex Roy
Because you’re age blind?

Bryan Salesky
I am age blind, but we’ve hired people who don’t have a college degree, who just have great skills and that’s okay. We don’t believe in filtering based on some small set of the universities or types of degrees. People come from all different skill sets and experiences, and the more diversity the better in my view.

Alex Roy
Well, if you want to follow up more about Steel City Codes, check them out at www.steelcitycodes.org. Steel City Codes also on Facebook, on Twitter. And if you, well, we know the answer for Bryan, he’s too busy. And so if you want to learn more about me, I’m Alex144 on all platforms. You should check us out on Twitter @NoParkingPod. And if you want to read the transcripts to our episodes, we supply transcripts of every episode on our website, www.noparkingpodcast.com. You know someone who wants to be a guest on our show, or if you want to come on, email us at guests@noparkingpodcast.com, and we will see you next week.