published Saturday, November 30th, 2013

Hour of Code event to prep students for tech jobs

IF YOU GO

Who: Hamilton County middle schoolers*

What: Hour of Code computer coding basics demonstration

When: Dec. 14, 2013, 10 a.m.-2 p.m.

Where: Chattanooga Public Library, 1001 Broad St., Chattanooga

Cost: Free; registration deadline is Dec. 10

Online: www.setnhourofcode.com

* Volunteers also needed to staff Hour of Code event. Registration is available online.

Computer coding is the future:

It's the language every website in the world speaks.

But for some reason, the ever-expanding tech world is colliding with a shrinking professional pool of coders and computer scientists.

Even in the Internet darling of the South.

"We live in Gig City, right?" said Keri Randolph, director of learning for the STEM Innovation HUB, which brings business, education and philanthropic groups together to spread science, technology, engineering and math education across the region.

STEM is teaming up with the Chattanooga Public Library, Public Education Foundation, Lamp Post Group and engage 3D to host a code education event on Dec. 14. The goal: capitalize on one of the Scenic City's bragging rights: "the world's fastest Internet."

The means is Hour of Code, a weeklong, international endeavor to expose students to code writing, a profession desperately in need of fresh blood. Computer science majors are getting sparse.

Woefully, "What's wrong with this picture?" sparse, according to code.org, website for Hour of Code.

By 2020, the website predicts there will be 400,000 computer science students in the United States -- and 1.4 million computer science jobs. That's a $500 billion opportunity gap.

According to code.org, nine out of 10 high schools don't currently offer computer programming classes.

That's where Hour of Code comes in. Its founders are trying to close the gap between coding and computer science jobs and this generation of students.

The event is geared specifically toward middle schoolers. Because when students are in high school, "it's kind of too late then" to pique their interest and help them find a lifelong love for computer science, according to Randolph.

Randolph and Dan Challener, president of PEF Chattanooga, believe there are a lot of high-paying, quality jobs right here in Chattanooga students' backyard. Some are jobs that are glanced over because of the old stereotypes attached to computer scientists -- nerds with pocket protectors and flourescent-lit jobs in a labyrinth of cubicles.

Well, maybe nerds isn't totally wrong.

"Geeks are the new rock stars," said Shelley Prevost, partner and co-founder of Lamp Post Group, a Chattanooga-based "venture incubator."

She echoed part of what Will.I.Am, one of Hour of Code's all-star spokespeople, said in an advertisement for the event -- available, of course, on the Internet at code.org.

Prevost's 10-year-old son watched the ad and said he, too, wants to change the world.

Guess Prevost's answer.

"If you see a problem in the world, technology is probably going to be a part of fixing it," she said.

And now is the time to break into the profession, which adheres to the age-old rule of supply and demand.

The demand is there. The demand is growing.

But what about the supply?

Wherever they are, they "probably will drive the workforce in the next decade," Prevost said.

So why not Chattanoogans? The board is set for them.

Blazing fast Internet. Enormous international companies.

All of it "really giving kids a leg up if we can ever figure out what the heck to do with it," said Prevost.

Starting now.

Contact staff writer Alex Green at agreen@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6731.

about Alex Green...

Alex Green joined the Times Free Press staff full-time in January 2014 after completing the paper's six-month, general assignment reporter internship. Alex grew up in Dayton, Tenn., which is also where he studied journalism at Bryan College. He graduated from Rhea County High School in 2008. During college, Alex covered the city of Graysville and the town of Spring City for The Herald-News. As editor-in-chief of Bryan College's student news group, Triangle, Alex reported on ...

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