Many public schools lack basic computer science classes, which means a lot of talented kids never get a chance to pick up the tools they need—and America’s tech sector suffers.
My co-host, Bryan Salesky, went to one of those schools and had to teach himself technology the hard way. Luckily, he evolved from being the kid in the basement taking apart his dad’s radio to the founder of Argo AI, and today Bryan is a passionate supporter of organizations like First Robotics, which organizes robotics competitions between kids of all ages.
But Bryan wanted to do more. When we heard about Steel City Codes, a Pittsburgh-based nonprofit founded and led by high-schoolers that teaches coding to students of all ages and backgrounds, we knew we had to get them on our show.
On this episode of No Parking, we sat down with Steel City Codes founders Akshana Dassanaike-Perera, Joshua Zhou & Claire Shao, to discuss launching their organization, debunking myths around computer science, training fellow teens, and developing curriculums for kids as young as age 9.
“Coding is really easy to get into,” said Zhou, Steel City COO. “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.”
“The biggest factor in teaching the younger students,” said CEO Dassanaike-Perera, “is getting good high school students to act as mentors. If the younger students think these high school students are cool, they look up to them. They’ll basically listen and do whatever they tell them to.”
On the question of how to lower the barrier to entry for economically disadvantaged students, Dassanaike-Perera said exactly what I hoped to hear.
“We make sure to keep it completely cost-free for students that are trying to come to the camp,” he said. “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.”