October 29, 2014 · Behind The Scenes

An Hour of Code’s Hadi Partovi on Changing Education and Making History


hour of code

Last year Code.org co-founder and CEO Hadi Partovi told Forbes that computer science was essentially, “…the next step up from Legos.” Coding involves creative problem solving—the way most multiple-choice tests and typical school curriculums, for that matter, don’t. Partovi co-founded Code.org with his brother Ali, to help introduce coding to students and make learning computer science as integral as math, or even the ABC’s.

Code.org launched An Hour of Code on Indiegogo with hopes of spreading computer education to 100 million students across the globe. It’s a lofty goal, but one within reach: Today Silicon Valley influencers Mark Zuckerberg, John Doerr, and Rich Barton contributed a collective $1.25 million, which—including match contributions by Microsoft, Google, Salesforce and others—bumps the total funds raised to $2,344,904, to date.

We caught up with Partovi, to learn more about his inspiration, An Hour of Code, and how Code.org is about to change the world.


Indiegogo: You’ve been quoted as having tech in your blood. What was your first introduction?

Hadi Partovi: My father was the founding first professor at Sharif University of Technology in Tehran, Iran. It’s now the leading tech university in Iran, and one of the top-ten tech universities in the world. My father hired all the teaching staff when he was there. I grew up with it.

IGG: And you learned to program when you were just 10-years-old?

HP: Yes. My father gave us (Hadi and brother, Ali) a computer, and told us that if we wanted to play video games, we had to build them ourselves. This was in the early 80’s, so before the World Wide Web. Back then we had to learn it from a book.

IGG: That’s intense. Did you find coding difficult then, and/or did you enjoy it?

HP: It was only exciting. Most people think of computer programming as black magic; they’ll mentally put it in the same bucket as calculus, and physics. But it’s really as easy as learning the alphabet. Once you teach the computer to say the most basic thing: “Hello World,” you realize you can tell this computer what to do. It’s not very difficult; it’s very empowering.

IGG: You’ve mentioned how learning to code can help actualize the American dream. When did you move to the U.S.?

HP: We lived in Iran until 1984. The revolution changed the country tremendously. There was a totalitarian regime. I was about to turn 12 when we left. Once you’re 13 you can’t leave, because you’re set to join the army. My family wasn’t a big fan of war, so we moved to Westchester County, just north of New York City. My father was able to continue his work, and moved into a research position at MIT and Harvard.

IGG: Was that when you first noticed problems with school curriculums?

HP: I didn’t think about it when I was little. But when I graduated from college—anyone in tech recognizes the shortage of tech graduates. Companies are always seeking engineers—and it’s for all kinds of industries. There’s a deep need for computer science. What’s interesting, though, is that while the need has grown, there are slightly fewer computer science students now than there were 10 years ago. There are more jobs than there are computer science graduates. It doesn’t make sense. I realized our education system hadn’t caught up with the new century.

The U.S., while leading in tech, is behind when it comes to computer science education. Where I went to school (in Iran), the majority of kids learn something computer related. Iran is actually ahead of us in computer programming. The U.K. is also ahead of us. Computer science is built-in as part of the entire school curriculum. It’s a new field, though. Every part of the world needs to catch up.

IGG: How did seeing the need translate into starting Code.org?

HP: Code.org launched 1.5 years ago, and it started with a viral video. It was so popular, 20,000 schools reached out, wanting help adding coding to the curriculum. We formed Code.org to help them.

For me, personally, I was at a point in life where I had successful investments—and free time. I created the original video as a hobby. I thought it would be a nice, six-month project. The response was overwhelming, though, and I quickly realized it was more than a hobby!

IGG: So now you’re literally about to change education on a global scale. That’s incredibly huge. What do you see as next steps?

HP: With An Hour of Code, the aim is to educate 100 million students. Beyond that, the goal is to put courses in 50,000 classrooms worldwide. We need money for that—to get computer science taught in every school, and woven into the educational fabric. It’s the schools’ jobs to teach our kids.

An Hour of Code is just a teaser, to help kids realize they can learn to code, and to help teachers realize kids can do it. It’s fun—more fun than trigonometry, and many traditional things kids learn.

The 10-year goal: We’re growing fast, but of course changing education is really hard. We’re adding something new to the curriculum. That’s never happened, so to do it in 10 years would be amazing.

IGG: Why did Code.org choose to run a campaign on Indiegogo?

HP: Last year was the first year we did the campaign. Our biggest challenge is people think fundraising is easy. Indiegogo has made it easy, though. We’ve stated a clear goal, and there are matching donors. This gives us a focused effort, and helps raise awareness, too.

IGG: What’s next for you?

HP: Code.org is my only full-time job. It’s already had an incredible impact. We’ve already introduced 45 million kids to An Hour of Code. That’s somewhat unheard of in terms of the pace of change. Kids who didn’t have hope for what education could give them, now can dream. We teach kids how the digestive system works, so now we’re also teaching them how an algorithm works. It’s just as relevant as say, learning photosynthesis. What’s most important, is that there won’t be as much intimidation surrounding computer science.

This is the biggest thing I’ve ever done—changing the way education works, on a global scale.

For more information on how you can help, and expand education on a global scale, visit An Hour of Code to contribute.

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