Computer science jobs in the United States are some of the fastest-growing and highest-paying, but a majority of students have no access to computer science classes before high school or college. One teenager, however, became fascinated with the intricacies of computer coding and now works to inspire elementary-age children to code.
Swetha Prabakaran, a junior at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Virginia, founded Everybody Code Now!, a non-profit organization. She and other student volunteers regularly offer a workshop to teach young students about computer science.
"I think it is really powerful to have computer science education coming from a young age because when you are exposed to it when you are younger, you are more creative and you are open-minded,” Prabakaran said. The kids “can learn more, they have more fun with it."
On a recent Saturday, almost 30 such students gathered at a library near Washington, D.C., their eyes fixed on their laptop screens.
"This workshop is really, really cool,” fifth-grader Adia Elcock said. “It is fun. I learned how to program things and make lines of code. And doing that is just really exciting."
A mix of power, creativity
Prabakaran says she fell in love with coding after taking an introductory computer science class as a freshman.
"Coding in the simplest term is just telling a computer what to do,” she said. “Even though I am just a student, I can build something that could potentially impact thousands of people through an app. That kind of power and being able to use my creativity, imagination and ideas to create things [that] can affect other people is what I found really captivating about computer science."
Prabakaran says she began teaching young students how to code about a year ago because she wanted to pass on her own excitement to others. Now the non-profit, partnered with schools, operates in 12 states.
Andrew Guenther brought his seven-year-old daughter to the workshop because he believes in a “the earlier the better” philosophy when learning basic programming.
"I think a lot of it is just kind of helping to develop the ability to critically think about a problem,” he said, “and work through possible solutions and develop a mechanism for solving the problems."
Plans to grow worldwide
Prabakaran’s efforts have been noticed by those beyond her workshops’ walls.
The 15-year-old recently was honored at the White House as one of 11 young women named "Champions of Change."
Prabakaran sees her accomplishments so far as only the beginning.
"We are talking to partners across the globe including in India, Ghana and Bangladesh and many other countries,” she said. “We hope to grow and expand to make this accessible to kids across the world next year."