Code Clubs Take Computer Programming Out Of The Classroom And Into The Community

By Annika Cline
Published: Thursday, December 3, 2015 - 5:18pm
Updated: Friday, December 4, 2015 - 10:37am
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(Photo by Annika Cline - KJZZ)
Free programs like Scratch are used by code clubs to teach computer programming skills.

When you Google something and a second later it gives you millions of results, it might seem like magic. Code clubs are showing people that they, too, can code a computer program, which could help fill the more than 10,000 open computing jobs in Arizona.

Kids at Mesa Code Club, part of Code Clubs of Arizona, can code their own mini games.

“This button right here, when I click it, it clears everything on the screen,” explained Stacey Lamb as she showed how she coded a game that lets the user make colorful designs. She can insert basic lines of code that change the color, or tell the game to start playing music at a certain time.

"This is my code, which is telling this guy over here what to do,” she said.

The kids use a free programming language developed by MIT, called Scratch. It breaks coding down to its simplest form - give a command that leads to a certain effect within the program. Here, that means dancing crabs and singing starfish. But Code Clubs of Arizona founder Kelly Smith said these are the building blocks for something bigger.

‘Your worldview changes, and all of a sudden the world is pliable,” Smith said. “It’s something you can shape and affect.”

Clubs like Smith’s are popping up around the Valley - some for kids, some for adults and some for groups that are underrepresented in the tech industry. Laura Freer runs the Phoenix chapter of Girl Develop It.

“We’re trying to reach out to the women who never really thought about it, or didn’t think they could do it,” Freer said. “There’s a lot of thought that 'hey, I can’t be a programmer because my brain just doesn’t work that way.'”

Freer said it’s hard to be what you can’t see, and according to Girl Develop It, women hold just 26 percent of computing-related jobs. So, she said, having a group specifically for women makes the idea of being a coder seem less daunting. That’s important, because right now the demand for computing skills in the workforce is high.

But code clubs aren’t just for newcomers. Both Freer and Smith said as programmers, the learning never stops. That’s why code groups run the gamut from novice to expert.

Shon Burton is a programmer who founded his own company. He and some of his employees meet regularly with a coding group called Desert Python at Gangplank, a co-working space in Chandler.

“Coding is like swimming. You can’t learn how to swim from a book,” Burton said.

He said that’s why getting together and problem-solving has been so helpful for his company. Programming is constantly changing, so there’s always something new to learn. Burton said major tech companies have made the tools more accessible than ever, and he thinks that’s what makes this the right time to learn, too.

“We stand on the shoulders of giants right, we’re able to look back at companies like Yahoo and Google and Facebook who have put forth enormous resources to solve very difficult problems and shared that with the community,” Burton said.

The community is growing quickly, one line of code at a time.

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