Joe and Katya’s journey to Dev Mountain and Katya’s newfound success in programming is the quintessential story of a “Smart Parent” and a “GenDIY” student charting a course to a career.
We’re sharing this blog, that first appeared on joeeames.me, in celebration of the Smart Parents and GenDIY projects. Smart Parents, sponsored by Nellie Mae Education Foundation, is a series and culminating book, tentatively titled “Parenting for Powerful Learning,” that will act as a resource to guide parents in creating, choosing and advocating for powerful, student-centered learning experiences for their students. Powered by personalized learning, Generation Do-It-Yourself (GenDIY) is combatting unemployment and rising tuitions by paving unique pathways to find and create jobs. GenDIY is blog series all about young people taking control of their journey through K-12 and postsecondary to employment.
We would love to have your voice in the SmartParents and GenDIY conversations. To contribute a blog, ask a question, or for more information on Smart Parents please email Bonnie Lathram with the subject “SmartParents” and for GenDIY email Tyler Nakatsu with the subject “GenDIY.” Join the social discussion on Twitter with #SmartParents and #GenDIY.
This is the first in what I intend to be a series of blogs about getting my daughter into the programming industry.
These last 12 months have been a strange adventure for myself, my wife, and our 16 year old daughter Katya.
Last year I kind of coerced my daughter into taking a Web Design class at her high school. That was her sophomore year. She was rather reluctant, but still agreed. I didn’t put too much pressure on her, but enough that she probably would have chosen a different elective without my influence. Shortly into that class, she used what she learned to customize her Tumbler page, and fell in love with programming. After a few months we found out about a program that our school district runs where she could spend half her day in a full on web development class. She decided to apply and was accepted for her Junior year (this year)
In this program, they bussed her from her school out to a district building for half the day, then bussed her back. I was extremely excited. I will say it’s a very progressive program. The classroom even looks pretty silicon valley-ish, with nice new monitors and as many couches as chairs. She loved the program, and was really excited to be part of it.
Then during the summer I went to That Conference where I was speaking on Angular, and I was mentioning to my daughter how people would love to hear her speak about coding. Being young and female she had a very unique perspective, and a great opportunity to influence others who would relate to her more than they would to an “old man” like myself. That Conference is a really great conference, and even runs a family track which has technology sessions for kids. While looking at the schedule, Katya suddenly asked me if she could give a presentation next year. I replied “I don’t know, let’s go ask”. So we tracked down Clark Sell, who is the head organizer for That Conference, and she asked if she could give a session in the family track on getting kids, especially girls, interested in coding. His reply was “You’re on. You have a year to prepare”.
That fall I started teaching 1 day a month at the local web development immersion bootcamp: Dev Mountain. I spoke briefly with my wife about a desire to put my daughter through one of these bootcamps. Maybe right after graduation, or even during the summer between her Junior and Senior year. Or even crazier, take her out of class for 3 months and do it.
Then two major events happened.
First, while choosing talks for ng-conf we were looking for some unique and diverse talks, and so I suggested to Katya that she submit a talk on teaching Angular to kids. I had been teaching her Angular over the last month or so and thought that some of the things we had been doing together were pretty interesting. The response was overwhelmingly positive and she was accepted to speak.
Second, Pluralsight needed someone to help them out with their hour of code initiative, and since they knew about my daughter’s experience with coding, they asked me and her to teach the hour of code at several events, one of which was at the Utah State Capital Building, with the Governor in attendance. Those events went well, and Katya was amazing. Here’s a picture of her teaching the Governor of Utah to code.
That experience radically changed my opinion about my daughter’s future. All of a sudden I was frustrated that she was stuck wasting her time in high school taking yet another history class, when she could be doing what she wanted to do with her life and spending all day learning skills that will help her in her chosen career. Don’t get me wrong, I love history and think it’s a great subject. But she already knows history better than I do because she actually likes it. In fact she’s already well rounded, is good socially, has a great command of the English language, writes well, etc. So is what she’s getting right now in high school worth keeping her from doing something she’s passionate about?
This was December 11th. By December 22nd, we had finagled Dev Mountain to add one more student to their January class, pulled Katya out of school, had her quit her job, and jump started her on the path to becoming a programmer.
She will still have to finish high school, but we’ll do that using an online high school.
In the end, I felt like public high school just wasn’t serving her best interests anymore, and it was time to do something radical on her behalf, and at 16, she just didn’t belong there anymore.
So I was utterly amazed by what happened when I published part 1 of this blog. Not only did tons of people read it, tweet it, and comment, but it actually hit the front page of Hacker News, which completely blew me away. What I had to say really caused quite a stir.
One of the things I was really surprised and overwhelmed by was the vast amounts of passion I saw about the subject of history, which I think is awesome. I love seeing how passionate people are about things they love, and hearing them talk about the value of such things.
First off I want to say that I myself am a huge believer in education. In fact, my job is education. I author training videos for Pluralsight.com.
As Katya began to show more and more interest in programming, I began to ponder more and more on the relative value of public high school vs. something less traditional, based on where Katya was at currently in her education.
One of the things that stuck out to me when considering what was best for her is that Katya is already a very well-rounded individual. She knows geography and history well. She loves writing, and has a good command of English. She loves to read both fiction and non-fiction, usually historical non-fiction. She adores theater, and she hates math and gym, but of course nobody loves all subjects. This really made me think that what public high school had to offer her over the next 18 months until graduation, really wasn’t as important as what she could gain elsewhere. Katya is a Junior. She’s currently halfway through her Junior year. She has taken 10.5 years of English, History, and Math. (ignoring kindergarten here)
Why is 12 years exactly the magic number? Why not 13 instead of 12? If she will be that much more “well rounded” by 12 years of school, why shouldn’t it be 13 or even 14? A degree gives you 16, but why then not 18 or 20?
And what about the thought that she’s too young to know what she wants to do, and she should be exposed to more things through the rest of high school before she decides? Well, why is 18 years old the magic age when someone can finally know what they want to do for the rest of their life? I know plenty of people in their mid 20’s who still don’t know what they want. I have friends in their mid 30’s who don’t like what they are doing, and have never known what they really want to do for a career. And I know people, like myself, who discovered something at 15 or 16 and knew it was what they wanted to do for their career and anything that held them back was only an obstacle, and not a blessing.
As Katya’s mother and I began to discuss the possibility of taking her out of public high school, we also talked at length with Katya about this, and the pros and cons of this decision. I emphasized that high school gives you a nice on-ramp into the intensity of college and later life. That skipping that can be detrimental to kids who are unprepared. Katya is NOT what you would call a good student. She struggles with completing homework, especially in classes she has little interest in.
I stressed to her that leaving high school had all kinds of costs associated with it. She would have lots more responsibility. The teachers would no longer be hounding her about homework and she wouldn’t have a report card to judge how she was doing in class. She would have to either sink or swim, and most of the responsibility would be on her shoulders. It was going to be much more difficult than any class she had taken previously. Being a programmer myself, I can help a lot, but I can’t make up for a lack of self-discipline.
I frequently told her that ultimately the decision had to be hers, and she needed to be sure that it was something she really wanted to do, and was the right thing for her. We also stressed that this was a decision she needed to pray about, and make sure that this was something that she felt that God wanted her to do.
After she decided that she wanted to leave high school and attend the bootcamp, she was given some pre-coursework. It represented about 40 hours of work. She was still working part time, and had 2 weeks until the class started. I told her that she needed to prove that she wanted to go to the class and that she would have to complete the pre-coursework before class started, all through her own self-discipline.
In the end, even though she didn’t scream through it in a couple days, she completed it with several days to spare.
Before making a final decision, I was really worried about what would be best for her. But after committing to action, I have felt a lot of peace in the decision.
One of the primary drivers in our decision to put Katya in a bootcamp was all the opportunities that she was missing out on because she was in high school. Yes, high school can offer her prom and theater and book club. But it also offers her one-size-fits-all educational plans and cliques and cyber bullying and a fashion-obsessed culture.
There are so many awesome things she can do by attending a bootcamp and then doing online high school which will take less time compared to public high school. She has already been asked to speak at two conferences. I know there are many more that would love to hear a 16 year old girl talk about tech and tech education. Her and I were able to go to 5 different elementary schools and give 4th through 8th graders their first exposure to coding. That’s not something you can do much of if you have to be in school every day. I also believe that online training sites like pluralsight.com could benefit from having courses directed at kids, that are actually authored by their peers, instead of old men.
She will also get the opportunity to face an academically challenging situation with this bootcamp, but it will be in a subject she loves and is passionate about. So she’ll have the opportunity to excel at something she truly cares about, and gain the self confidence to know that she can do amazing things with the right motivation and discipline.
She will also have the opportunity to work alongside her father. I think one of the sad byproducts of us becoming a non-agrarian society is that we no longer work alongside our parents and learn our trades. I am a firm believer that the influence of a loving father is not only far more positive on a young girl than the influence of her peers, but also critical in her development. If you have any doubts of this please read Strong Fathers Strong Daughters by Dr. Meg Meeker.
As I pondered this decision, in my mind I saw Katya authoring training courses for other teenage girls to learn web development, building the mobile apps she wants to build, speaking to audiences of hundreds and thousands on all kinds of technical and educational topics, and those visions made me so excited for her future.
But ultimately it’s the opportunities that I don’t know about and can’t predict. Once she has these valuable skills, and time to leverage them, what opportunities will the world hold for her? I don’t know, and that excites me more than anything else.
For more on GenDIY & Smart Parents, check out: