Kids Learn to Create During Code Jam

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Tiny fingers quickly pressed the keys of a keyboard as parents sat next to their children, resting their arms on the back of their child’s seat. Both were transfixed by the computer screen before them.
Debi Pfitzenmaier started Youth Code Jam, San Antonio’s largest youth coding event, when she noticed her child’s knack for coding but couldn’t find a local coding education program.
In its fifth year, Code Jam hosted more than 300 participants Saturday afternoon for its free event at the Education Service Center on the Eastside, nearly half were girls and nearly three quarters were minority students.
“We host (Code Jam) to connect the dots for parents and students,” Pfitzenmaier said. “We want to connect the dots from playing online, to creating online, to real world jobs.”
Coding languages enable students to create websites, games, calculators, and just about anything imaginable.
Debi Pfitzenmaier speaks with an attendee during Code Jam. Photo by Joan Vinson.

Debi Pfitzenmaier speaks with an attendee during Code Jam. Photo by Joan Vinson.

Students traveled from one station to another in the large conference room as mentors from Rackspace, St. Mary’s University, the University of Texas at San Antonio’s Institute for Cybersecurity, and regional and local high schools, assisted students in learning various programming languages.

“Coding is like reading and writing these days,” Pfitzenmaier said. “It’s a form of literacy.”

Councilmember Ron Nirenberg (D8) circled the room on Saturday, stopping every so often to speak with parents and their children.

“We know that there are more jobs in technology than there are, today, skilled workers,” he said. “I know that events like this are an opportunity for us to change that.”

Nirenberg stressed that parents don’t have to be tech savvy to encourage their children “to explore an increasingly changing and complex new field.”

Council members donated the laptops that the students used to learn various coding languages such as Javascript and Python.

“Unfortunately, sometimes the challenge for kids to become involved in these things is the cost of the hardware,” he said.

San Antonio is a hub for biomedical and cybersecurity companies, both of which require technical backgrounds, and the hosting company Rackspace started the Open Cloud Academy which offers training and certification courses in various coding languages.

“Even if you don’t want to go into programming, almost every job will likely require some level of programming knowledge,” Pfitzenmaier said.

Councilmember Ron Nirenberg (D8) speaks with the Dumulongs. Photo by Joan Vinson.

Councilmember Ron Nirenberg (D8) speaks with the Dumulongs. Photo by Joan Vinson.

When Pfitzenmaier asked the crowd to raise their hand if they had never coded before, more than half of the room responded with a raised hand. With the help of contributions from Rackspace, the 80/20 Foundation, Google Fiber and others, Code Jam is taking the initiative to teach kids technical skills in preparation for their future.

Nirenberg said he tried to enroll his seven-year-old son in the program, but Code Jam seats sold out in eight hours and 160 people signed up for the waiting list. Sign up for Code Jam’s email list on its website for future notifications.

“What a fantastic thing for the city,” Nirenberg said. “This is what we’re trying to build our future on, these kinds of skills that kids are learning at seven, eight, nine years old.”


*Top image: Dennis Dumulong and his son Nicholas receive help from a mentor. Photo by Joan Vinson.  

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One thought on “Kids Learn to Create During Code Jam

  1. “Nearly half were girls and nearly three quarters were minority students.” And yet the lead photo is of a white male (not that he isn’t cute as a button.) Isn’t the point of this program to promote access? I haven’t checked the numbers lately, but I’m pretty sure while males are well represented in the coding world;) Images matter.

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