When Seattle-based nonprofit Code.org launched in 2013 with a mission to spread computer science knowledge, co-founders Hadi and Ali Partovi recruited some of the most successful coders on the planet to champion their cause.
In a YouTube video titled “What Most Schools Don’t Teach,” Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, Valve co-founder Gabe Newell and others discuss how computer science education has impacted their lives .
“The programmers of tomorrow are the wizards of the future,” Newell said in the video. “You’ll look like you have magical powers compared to everyone else.”
This week, Code.org turned 10 years old and the magic certainly spreads. The nonprofit counts 80 million students and 2 million teachers on its platform today, with 238 million projects created by students worldwide.
Backed by nearly $60 million in funding from companies like Microsoft, Amazon, Google and more, Code.org isn’t resting on its laurels. The organization works with business, education and nonprofit leaders to urge state governments and education leaders to offer more computer science opportunities to K-12 students across the US. students and close the gender gap in tech.
And Hadi Partovi looks ahead to the next 10 years and continued growth. The CEO said he is pushing for all states to require computer science as a prerequisite for high school graduation. And he sees the rise of artificial intelligence not as a threat to human coders and education as we know it, but as the next “superpower” for computer scientists to harness.
“We will need new tools, new teacher training and thought leadership to figure out the future of education,” Partovi said. “I expect Code.org to play an important role in all three of these things.”
Partovi is a former Microsoft executive and was an early investor in companies such as Facebook, DropBox, Airbnb and Uber.
GeekWire caught up with Partovi to discuss his Code.org highlights, challenges along the way, his views on artificial intelligence, and more. Our questions and answers have been edited for length and clarity.
GeekWire: When you look back 10 years ago and the launch of Code.org, what is your fondest memory?
Hadi Partovi: I think the two most unique memories from the Code.org project were going to the White House for President Obama to become the first president to write a line of code, and also going to the Vatican for Pope Francis to write a line code. code. If you had told me in 2013, when we started, that any of these things would happen, there was no way I would have believed it, especially the president hosting such an event, a year after the event began.
Is there anything along the way that you would have done differently?
One of the challenges I’ve had as a leader is alternating between leading a startup versus leading a movement. At Code.org we really do both. We have the largest computer science learning platform in the world. But at the same time, we are also leading a social movement with many other organizations, partners and collaborators. My hardest challenge was balancing doing both of those things. We are both a rising tide that lifts all boats, and we are also the biggest boat. Finding the right balance between these two things is probably where I’ve had the most mistakes and is the biggest area of growth for me.
Before we get into the artificial intelligence and hype of the last few months, what would you consider the biggest leap in this type of education in the last 10 years?
“For me, the biggest surprise of Code.org’s work—and it’s also a source of greatest joy—was the rate at which the world’s teachers decided to start teaching something they never learned themselves. And he also embraced a kind of teaching, which is a kind of flipped classroom model where basically the curriculum is delivered via computer and the teacher actually learns along with the kids.
When we started Code.org, our biggest concern was, “Will schools, and especially teachers, adopt it? Who will teach computer science — there are not enough computer scientists.” It turns out that history teachers, math teachers, English teachers, librarians, gym teachers, 3rd grade teachers have all started teaching coding and computer science by the millions. That’s one of the most exciting things about Code.org’s work.”
So how is artificial intelligence changing everything? What are we looking at in terms of genetic artificial intelligence and the continued need for human coders and the need for computer science training?
“Well, anyone in technology knows that the rate at which technology is changing our world is accelerating. The latest developments in artificial intelligence are an example of this. There have been significant changes in the platform, going back to the invention of the personal computer, the Internet and then the smartphone. Artificial intelligence is the next big such change and it will change everything in our world, not just education.
For Code.org, we are going to invest deeply in this space in three areas. One teaches how AI works. The second is the use of artificial intelligence and how we teach computer science. And the third is to infuse artificial intelligence and computer science into other subjects in primary and secondary education. All three of these are important, important bets as part of what we see as the next 10 years of Code.org.
You mentioned how AI itself can write code. And that’s true, and the way I think about it is that AI is basically creating a new superpower that’s only available to computer scientists. Coding has always been a superpower, but AI only widens the gap between the haves and the have-nots when it comes to these skills and makes teaching computer science more important than ever.
What do you think about schools being concerned about technology like ChatGPT and in some cases banning it?
I think even those schools would admit that the bans are a short-term effort, acknowledging that they haven’t figured out how to adjust their curriculum and also acknowledging that current AI tools are only 18+ and not really designed for K-12. But I don’t think these bans are a permanent statement. It’s just a short-term reaction to what’s going on this school year.
The entire K-12 curriculum will need to adjust not only how we teach but also what we teach and what we test. It has to adapt to a world where just like the calculator made arithmetic easy, artificial intelligence makes it easy to access all kinds of information and write essays and things like that.
How do you envision the next 10 years for Code.org compared to the first 10 in terms of the learning curve for teachers and students?
The first 10 years of Code.org have been incredibly impactful, and yet at the same time I believe the next 10 years hold even greater potential. Code.org has growth potential somewhere between 10X and 100X. I think people are realizing more and more because of the changes that are happening in artificial intelligence, school systems are no longer meeting the needs of what parents expect in terms of preparing their children or what employers expect. The biggest change that will happen in the US is the shift to making computer science a requirement for high school graduation. My bet is that by the end of the decade, we’ll see every US state make it mandatory. This is also not going to be just a US thing. I think dozens of countries will move in the same direction.”
If you hadn’t put Code before .org, is there anything else you could imagine teaching or bringing to the world?
I am regularly asked about the shortcomings of public education because there are so many people who believe that we are teaching the curriculum of the past and that schools are not teaching the real things that students need to learn. So I’m hearing a lot of ideas about other things we should be teaching in schools. Part of why we teach computer science is because computer science is one of the best ways to teach some of these other things that people want, like creativity, collaboration, problem-solving skills, project management. But if I had to pick the two other subjects that are most lacking in education right now, they are statistics and financial literacy. If every calculus student learned computer science and statistics, I think the country would be much better prepared.