CodeReno looks to boost software skills
Rex Briggs was among the first marketing specialists to measure the effectiveness of the Internet two decades ago, joined Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer of Microsoft in presenting the results of his research and was named one of the dozen “Best and Brightest” in media and technology by Ad Week.
In short, he’s a guy who believes that computer programming can open the doors to all sorts of worlds.
Now Briggs is putting some of money, and a lot of his energy, into an initiative to teach more Reno-area schoolchildren to write programming code.
A a newcomer to Reno — Briggs moved here from El Dorado Hills, Calif., less than six months ago — the chief executive officer of Marketing Evolution worries whether his elementary-aged children and other students in the area are getting a good basis in computer science.
He cites this statistic: About 1.3 percent of the graduates of the University of Nevada, Reno, earn degrees in computer science. That’s barely more than half the average of 2.4 percent among college graduates nationally.
“Reno is behind in technology, and that’s not an area where we want to be behind,” says Briggs.
And as a businessperson who’s accustomed to taking the long view, Briggs believes that one of the keys to a strong economy in northern Nevada is creation of an ecosystem that encourages the growth of homegrown startups.
Which brings him to the creation of CodeReno.
Working with the College of Engineering and the student group known as ACM — short for “Association of Computing Machinery” — at UNR, Briggs launched CodeReno to get kids fired up about computer sciences.
Based on Scratch, a programming language created by MIT that allows software neophytes to easily create interactive art, stories and games, CodeReno enables youngsters to have fun while they learn programming. (For details, including a link to the Scratch site, see CodeReno.org.)
Some participants may seek cash prizes (they keep the rights to their creations) in a contest that will be decided next spring, while others simply want the enjoyment of learning a cool new skill, Briggs says.
And joy may prove to be important than code-writing skills, he says.
Kids who use Scratch to teach themselves may develop the self-confidence to learn other skills, he says.
They’ll experience a sense of accomplishment, and they’ll learn to think in a step-by-step methodical fashion.
Youngsters with those characteristics — creativity, confidence, critical thinking — will be well-positioned to develop entrepreneurial companies later on, Briggs says.
Doug Erwin, vice president for entrepreneurial development at the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada, agrees.
Erwin, who himself got started in entrepreneurship as writer of software code, says programming teaches youngers how to turn ideas into reality — and how to keep their minds open about new possibilities.
Programs such as CodeReno, he says, help build the skills of the region’s workforce while fostering an atmosphere of innovation.
Briggs, whose family also weighed the merits of Boulder, Colo., before deciding to move to Reno, believes that Reno has the right mix of university resources and business climate to thrive.
He notes, for instance, that UNR faculty and students have been enthusiastic in their support of CodeReno.
But, given his busy travel schedule, Briggs also could use more help from business people, educators and parents in spreading the word.
“I’ve got a global business to run,” he says.
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