“Every time you buy a cup of coffee at Starbucks, you are triggering up to a million lines of code”.
It’s 7:30 AM on a typical January school morning at Mission’s Heritage Park Middle School. As you’d expect, the parking lots are still empty, and the hallways deserted. Except in Greg McNeill’s IT classroom, where it’s an entirely different story.
Rows of Greg’s students are seated in front of their computers, attentively awaiting the activity that will soon start on the big screen at the front of the room. Today is the second day of the BC Tech Summit being held in Vancouver, and today is Coding Camp Day. Greg’s class is one of only three in the province that has been linked into the Vancouver proceedings.
“Along with Port McNeill and Quesnel, we’re the guinea pigs”, he tells me. “Students have been bussed to Vancouver from all over BC, but obviously not everyone could be there. So I volunteered to have my class linked to Vancouver by live feed”. He raises his hand. “ Look! It’s starting”.
We all watch as the screen comes to life, and sure enough, “Mr. McNeill’s class in Mission” is welcomed to the proceedings. The first presentation is by the team at Lighthouse Labs which is actually running today’s Coding Camp. Instructor Don Burks lays out the plan.
“Our primary goal is for you to understand code and the developer culture”, he tells his Vancouver Convention Centre audience as well as those watching via live feed. “”Learning code is not learning a technical skill. It’s learning a brand new language, just like French or German. So you don’t have to be a geek to be a programmer. You just have to like languages”.
He goes on to explain that programming is a simple process of creating a solution to a problem. “We break the solution into steps small enough that even a computer can understand”. And then he leaves them with a challenge.
“How many times in your life do you get the opportunity to be a god?” he asks. “Well, as a computer programmer, you get that chance every day. The only problem is – you can go from being a god to an idiot in a heartbeat”.
It’s soon time for hands on practice. Greg’s students are asked to open a URL called “Hour of Code”, a relatively simple shoot ‘em up game where targets get blown up by guns and bullets. The task is to customize the game, to change the number of bullets available, their speed, the speed and direction of the targets among other variables. And to do this requires opening the existing code and understanding it sufficiently to make the necessary changes.
Greg’s students are computer beginners, so there is plenty of help in the room. IT teacher Jeremy Ellis has brought a number of his senior students from Mission Senior Secondary, and eight members of Mission’s i-Open Technologies have volunteered their time as mentors.
“We’re in catch up mode”, explains Greg. “SRCTec (Sumas Regional Consortium for High Tech) is committed to Mission, and there is a push to attract high tech businesses to come here. It’s essential that we train local talent to fill the job demand”.
His students are learning computer basics and will then go on to more advanced training at Mission Secondary. “We have huge support from Mission’s tech community”, he acknowledges. “Technology is the wave of the future. It’s where the jobs will be”. He looks around his classroom. “But I only have 30 of the 700 students at this school. So we still have a long way to go”.
Meanwhile, his students are busy with the task at hand – some really into it, others content to just play the game rather than change it. The keeners are huddled with their mentors, and some are discovering that feeling of being a god. There is real power associated with making a computer do what you want it to do, and the energy and excitement in this room is contagious.
With more than 9,000 high tech companies located in British Columbia, and knowing that Mission’s SRCTec is attracting and training more of them every month, it is easy to see a bright and prosperous future for this city and its young graduates. The vision for Mission as a technical hub is coming true – Tech Starts Here