President Obama’s Hour of Code

From Hadi Partovi’s answer via Quora:

This is a great story. Code.org launched in February, 2013 with a video (What Most Schools Don’t Teach).  At that time, we had little more than a video, a great name, and a web site. I was a one-man team at the time, with no full-time staff, nor cash in the bank. Even the volunteers and contractors who had made the video had finished their work since the plan for “what’s next” hadn’t been figured out. But with one million people having signed our petition, and 15,000 schools having reached out asking our help to bring coding and computer science to their school, I knew we could do a lot more. And people everywhere wanted to help – celebrities, companies, and politicians.

The White House reached out to me to ask if there was a way we could get some of the celebrities or tech companies who were part of our video to do something together with the White House around computer science. This was now June 2013. I told them U.S. education is mostly driven by the states, if the Federal government can provide states funding for computer science that would be great. But, if that wasn’t on the table, what would really help would be if we could get the President to write even one line of code, to show symbolically, worldwide, that this is something any adult or child can participate in.

They loved the idea, but they wanted to know when or where it could happen, and there was a question of how could we get other celebrities or tech companies or influential people all involved to provide it context and follow-up and ongoing value.

A few days later, I thought – let’s make a campaign, to get lots of people just trying one hour of coding, and have schools everywhere participate, during Computer Science Education Week. We’d recruit the participation of the 15,000 schools who had reached out for our help, as well as the support of the various other politicians and celebrities who had offered it, and this would provide the perfect context to convince the President to participate too. That’s how the idea for the Hour of Code came about!

Five and a half months later, we launched the first Hour of Code campaign, in 2013. We launched the first Hour of Code on the home page of Google, in every Apple Store, and we had convinced the President to issue a speech about computer science. But it was impossible to get the president to actually write any code that year – the administration had just launched its Healthcare..gov website, and after the infamous technical failures , nobody wanted the visual of website failing while the President is learning to code.

So the first Hour of Code was a huge success, but the President didn’t try it himself, and I waited another year. In 2014, the White House was more engaged, but the folks we were working with couldn’t actually confirm or promise the President’s support. These were not the people who decided the President’s schedule. We decided to take matters into our own hands. First, we announced publicly that “one lucky classroom” would be brought to Washington DC for a super-historic special Hour of Code, but that all the details were secret (Blog post: A mystery #HourOfCode in Washington, DC: whose classroom is going? ). Everybody assumed this meant doing something with the President, even though we never said “President” or “White House”, because we didn’t have any of that confirmed. We told the White House that they better plan an event, because we are already marketing it, and they can’t disappoint tens of thousands of classrooms and teachers.

Next, I had the good luck to be invited to a function with the President, completely unrelated to Code..org, and I was part of a receiving line of people who got to shake hands with the president for 2 seconds. I turned my 2 seconds into 10 seconds, didn’t let go of the President’s hand, and personally asked him if he would write 1 line of code as part of the Hour of Code. We had just secured David Cameron’s participation in the UK, and I told him that we wanted him to do it too.

This was in November 2014. He said “yes,” and joked with a smile that he could “definitely do a better job of coding than that David Cameron.”  3 weeks later, we bussed in a lucky classroom from Newark and were in the White House, teaching the President to write his first line of JavaScript.

Bottom line: it took 1.5 years of hard work, not giving up, not taking no for an answer, asking in person, and inventing a worldwide education campaign along the way! 🙂

Comments