Programming Requirements for High School

One item that came from the Hour of Code was that programming should be required in schools if we want to see our young people learning computer science and being introduce to programming languages. As I was looking through the prefiled legislation for the upcoming session, SB14 stuck out. SB14 will allow students to use a programming class as the foreign language requirement. It looks like at the beginning of 2014 there was a lot of debate about it as Jacob Candelaria tried to introduce it during the previous legislative session.

Hello World

I think it is great to attempt to promote programming in schools and something I certainly support, but I can’t help but think this is the wrong way to go about it. The foreign language credit serves a completely different purpose than a computer language credit would. Foreign languages help introduce you to a different culture, how languages can work, they increase your communication skills and I think help with the understanding of your primary language. Spanish/bilingualism is extremely important for New Mexico, with companies locating here to access the bilingual talent, not to mention the increased traded and partnerships with Mexico. Finally, any foreign language is going to be college prep because most universities will require foreign language credit. Some research shows that and others also disagree with this approach.

This is a list of the current graduation requirements for NM. In a perfect world I think they would change an elective credit into a computer science/programming requirement. I’m not sure if this is the right choice for New Mexico because I don’t know if there are enough teachers throughout rural New Mexico to support a mandate like that.

The next best would be to let computer science count as a science or math credit, which is one of the primary actions is promoting. I would love to see if this could be modified to count programming as a science or math.

On a different note I am looking a starting a Coder Dojo in Albuquerque. It will need volunteers, if you are interested send me a message.

1 Million Cups

Finally made it to 1 Million Cups last week. This was last regular meeting of the year and I was glad I was able to attend. At 1 Million Cups two presenters talk for six minutes and take questions and comments afterwards.

The first presenter was Peri Pakroo. She spoke about her online creative magazine Pyragraph. She talked about her publishing model and her launch of their premium service and a podcast called the Self-Employed Happy Hour. Peri made a comment during the Q&A portion that California usually edges out New Mexico in unique visitors maybe there will be enough publicity from 1 Million Cups to put New Mexico in the top spot.

The second presenter was Dara Ambriz who is co-owner of Runway Apparel. This was her second time presenting and she was updating on all the community activities she has been involved in, such as Hautepreneurs and Diner en Blanc, her fashion trips and experience with her business. One person described her passion as ‘contagious’ and it is. When you see one person being so involved it is inspiring. I would go further thought and say the whole 1 Million Cups crowd has a contagious atmosphere. Everyone there seems ready to do what they can to help each other and promote Albuquerque and simply make things happen.

Check out the ABQ 1 Million Cups channel, I am enjoying going through them. Dara’s first presentation is there as well. I am hoping they get more videos up.

This is really a great time to be an entrepreneur in Albuquerque and with what is starting and what is growing I think next year is going to be even better.

Hour of Code

Wow, I have never been to the CNM STEMulus Center and now I am at four trips in less than a week. This time I went with my son for the Hour of Code event. It was a packed house of kids of all ages, which was great to see. I was surprised at how excited it made my son. He has always been somewhat interested in programming and I have done some online courses with him before, but it didn’t really keep his interest. I guess that is the difference between using Python to parse a webpage and using JavaScript to program a game. The games are just more fun. His thoughts afterward made my day:

I will never look at games the same way. Every time I click or perform an action I am going to think about how many lines of code it took to make it happen.

He has been unwavering in his dedication to being a science major and becoming an astronaut, but he said it might be interesting to be a programmer. This is the first time I have ever even heard him consider something different.

Hour of Code
Hour of Code – Albuquerque

The kids had fun, but one major thing came up in discussion:

What resources are available for a teenager to learn programming in Albuquerque? 

If they don’t have a class available at school (which most don’t), they are forced to learn it on their own. There are a numerous high quality online resources to learn programming, but it isn’t the same as a class or working with others. Hour of Code did a good job of getting them interested, but what is the next step for an interested student? Private tutors, online learning or technical parents; that isn’t exactly opening up programming to everyone. Are there any clubs, programs, classes in other cities we could copy? Or any resources here I am missing?

All I can think is that the kids are smart enough to see when adults don’t mean what they say. We can preach that every student should learn to program, but if we don’t require it in school or provide a way to teach it to them, will they believe us? And more importantly do we really mean it?


Hackathon – Programming Take-aways

The Lavu hackathon last weekend was a great learning experience for me. Here is a list of my personal take-aways from the event that I thought I would share:

  • I code slow at work. Our code base is huge and complex and written by multiple people. It takes a lot of thought and planning to make sure you write something correctly. Starting a project completely from scratch where its entire existence is directly in front of you allows you to write code extremely quickly, and that is exciting.
  • I rely on a lot of motor memory and tools. I borrowed a laptop for the event and had a fresh install of Visual Studio 2013 Community Edition (which just came out for free) on it. Everything was at the defaults with no plugins. At work I have Resharper, short cuts, other tools and plugins and four years of customizing my setup. I have no idea how it is setup. One thing I need to do is start from a fresh install and set things up exactly how I like them and record all that so I can duplicate it when needed. In the future I probably need to bring a full keyboard, Home/End/Del are too critical for me to try and locate a smaller key in a different spot.
  • I exercise regularly and eat much better than I did in college. My body has a rough time handling not moving, programming all weekend and drinking liters of sugar and coke, not sure how I lived off of that for so long, but it is hard to do now. In the future I still need to make sure I take a break and limit the sugar intake.
  • I’ve started plenty of projects before and worked on them for a bit, gotten bored and abandoned them. Having a deadline with a demo is a huge motivation for completing something. I need to find a way to work this into personal projects.
  • I spent too much time making things perfect at the beginning. The first item I started on was my connection screen that would work and perform exactly how I would envision it as a full product. I never demoed this screen, no one ever saw it and there was no reason not to hard code all that information into my system. I need to really focus on what the minimum viable program is an
  • .Net is not what people want to use to build minimum viable products at a Hackathon or startup weekend. People want web utilities, apps and sites, so I really need to be comfortable using JavaScript and PHP or perhaps deploying an app to Azure. Need to research this more.

Hopefully I will have a chance to try again in the future and we get to see more events like this in Albuquerque.

Lavu Hackathon

The first Lavu API hackathon occurred this weekend and I was lucky enough to be able to attend. This was my first time attending a hackathon. I had no idea what to expect, but it is something I had always wanted to do and luckily it ended up on a weekend were I had no other obligations.

It was a blast! The Lavu employees did a great job of making everyone comfortable, there was a ton of food, drinks and even some swag. They explained their API and they have a web view section (that I think they just implemented) that allows the developer to add a tab into the actual Lavu interface pulling content from their own system. This allows developers to tightly couple their modules into the actual system and seems like a powerful piece of extensibility. Everyone there was friendly, helpful and had interesting ideas, it was great getting to meet other local programmers I wouldn’t otherwise know.

Lavu swag at The STEMulus Center
Lavu swag at The STEMulus Center

This was also my first time at the STEMulus center and it a beautiful setup. It was perfect venue for this event, plenty of monitors, rooms to work in, and areas to relax. I think it was a success for Lavu, and the people that went, I certainly learned a lot and it was great having a project with a set deadline and just powering through a bunch of code with little distractions.

It sounds like they learned a lot from this and will be trying to do again in the future, so if it interest you keep your eyes out. I think they main thing that can be better is to get more information about the event out sooner, that should attract more turn out and give people a chance to come up with better ideas. I couldn’t even find any public information beyond the date and place until a few days before.

This is just the type of event that Albuquerque needs to grow as a tech and startup community. It gives developers a chance to practice, learn and network. It lets the company meet local developers, get real feedback about their product and some new ideas. If everything goes right it could give a developer some income and the company a new product.

As a programmer I felt it gave me a chance to learn about my abilities and real insight into how I program and what works or doesn’t work. I’ll share those later.

Next up is another trip to the STEMulus center, this time with my son for the Hour of Code event on Thursday. Bring your K – 12 year old.