Volunteering for an Hour of Code

December 18, 2015 Michael Blaha

It is no secret that technology is front and center in our lives. It seems almost every aspect of life is touched by technology one way or another. We pay our bills, shop, connect with each other socially, create art, play games, watch movies, etc. using various devices and services. I could go on and on about the uses of technology and different devices, but I will spare you the complete list. Let’s just agree that now and into the future, technology is and will continue to be an intricate part of our lives.

One thing all devices and technology solutions have in common is software. Without software these services do not exist, and the devices are nothing more than expensive bricks.

Writing software is something I do for a living and am very passionate about. Quite frankly, I just love to code. My introduction into coding was not until taking Computer Science 101 in college. I can still remember the first time I wrote a line of code, and I was like, “This is it. This is what I want to do with my life.” I couldn’t help but think that I wish I had been introduced to the world of Computer Science earlier in life.

On December 9th, I participated as a mentor for a program called: Hour of Code. Hour of Code is a worldwide campaign organized by Code.org aimed at introducing students to Computer Science. The concept is plain and simple. For one hour, students take and complete a self-guided online tutorial that introduces them to basic Computer Science concepts, such as logical statements and events. Students can choose from one of the six tutorials that are themed around franchises like Star Wars, Minecraft and Flappy Bird.

My participation took me to Wells Community Academy High School. Wells decided the Hour of Code would be mandatory for all students at 9:00 AM, ensuring that all kids would have a chance to participate. Students were paired together to take on the tutorials, and two mentors were assigned a classroom to assist the students. I was happy to find out I was assigned to the High School’s Computer Science lab. The room contained art work of various video games as well as some old school tech devices on shelves. They had a PlayStation 4 and an Xbox One. They even had a MakerBot (a 3D printer) that I desperately wanted to play with.

As the Hour of Code began, I walked around the class watching the progress of the students and providing them guidance. At first, the students seemed to struggle a bit. Once they got through the first couple of steps of the tutorials, however, they started to really understand the concepts and what they needed to do. After completing each step of the tutorial, the corresponding lines of code that were generated by the lesson are displayed on the screen. One kid yelled out, “I just wrote 22 lines of Code!”

With about five minutes left to the Hour, one kid I was helping fell back in his chair raised his arms and exclaimed, with a big sigh of relief, “Yes!”

I walked over and asked him: “Did you finish?”

He said: “Yeah. It was hard.”

“Did you like it?” I asked.

He said: “Yeah it was awesome...it was like a big puzzle.”

Exactly the reaction I was hoping to see from someone. When the Hour of Code was complete, each student earned a certificate.

I feel my time as a mentor at Wells High school was well spent. I can’t stress enough how important I think this initiative is. Software development is one of the fastest growing job sectors in the world and will continue to be in the future. We need to introduce kids to programming early and get them excited about the field. Programs like these, as well as adding Computer Science courses to the curriculum, will help ensure the children of today will have a good foundation by the time they get to college. Don’t get me wrong; learning to code is not easy and not for everyone. But, unless the kids have exposure to it, they will never have the chance to find out.

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Michael Blaha Architect

Michael Blaha is an Architect at One North, bringing his skills in both front and back-end development to craft extraordinary digital experiences for our clients. In his free time, he enjoys making video games and has designed, coded and released two games on the Windows Phone platform.

  • Favorite movie: Big Trouble in Little China
  • Favorite Chicago spot: Soldier Field

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