Why Teach Code?

by Danny Fenjves

People constantly ask me why I choose to teach kids to code as my profession. I could be a software developer, or a science or math teacher. I could be back on a film set in India working as an editor. Maybe go back to school myself. What is it about this job that I love so much?

To start, I love that code brings out students’ personalities and creativity in unexpected ways. Allyson and Clarence built a holiday app for people to manage their Secret Santa groups. Jeremy and Michael built a program to text them stock quotes on command. Caroline built a monogram generator. Many people have a misconception that coding is a dry and purely mathematical task, but I couldn’t disagree more. In my classes, code is the canvas that students use to build apps that feed their own interests. It’s so much fun to see a student get an idea and then dive head first into figuring out how to make it a reality.

Another misconception about coding is that you have to do it alone. I’ve seen strong friendships develop in my classroom over a project or programming challenge. Many of my students are now in college — most of them outside of New York City — but they have continued to stay in close contact with each other. There’s something about the struggle, about figuring things out together (almost all of our work is done in pairs or groups), about hard work and overcoming challenges, that builds lasting bonds. As a coding teacher, I’m lucky enough to see these friendships unfold before my eyes.

I love that the programming world is constantly changing. You can’t rest on your laurels or take for granted that what you know and teach won’t change tomorrow. There is always something new to learn, from emerging coding languages like Go or Elixir to new APIs that allow you to take advantage of amazing public datasets and apps from around the world. And I’m lucky to be in a profession where my students are often the ones that teach me about new technologies. Programming is such a vast domain that it allows for students to pick and choose their interests and then become subject experts — imparting their own knowledge of a subject to the rest of a class (and the teachers).

Lastly, I know that what I’m teaching matters in a tangible way to students. In the United States, there will be a projected 1 million unfilled computer science-related jobs by the year 2020. I know that while my students are having a lot of fun in my class, they are also being given the tools and the mindset to be leaders in a world where code is the engine of growth.