Pluralsight turns philanthropic, launches free coding bootcamp in Utah public schools

By Michael Carney , written on May 9, 2013

From The News Desk

Later today, hundreds of kids at six elementary, middle, and high schools in Utah will take a break from their normal classes and get three-hour crash course on coding. The praise-worthy experiment is part of an ongoing philanthropic effort by technology online education company Pluralsight aimed at giving kids early access to the worlds of Web and software development.

Since its founding in 2004, Pluralsight has created more than 500 online courses in partnership with 150 industry expert authors, and amassed 250,000 paying users in 100 countries worldwide. The result is more than $16 million dollars in revenue, a number that has been growing by 100 percent annually for the last two years.

Pluralsight’s founders recognize that the future of the tech industry, and of our economy, is heavily reliant upon the availability of capable software developers, and have taken the unusual step of developing free content aimed at kids. The initial three courses are titled Learning Programming Scratch (a kid-focused programming language developed by MIT), Android Beginner App Inventor, and Teaching Kids Programming, which covers the basics of C# (C-sharp), Microsoft Visual Studio, and Java. Each course is two to four hours in length, broken down into five to eight modules and is suitable for learners 10 years old and up. The company is currently working to release additional courses.

Initially, this content was delivered by its members in their own homes, to their own kids. But with overwhelming positive feedback in that arena, the company began exploring ways to get the content in front of more eager students and to help close the coding education gap in the school system.

There is no shortage of awareness within the educational community that compute education is important according Pluralsight founder and CEO Aaron Skonnard. The issue remains a lack of qualified teachers and approachable curriculum to make closing this gap realistic.

This week’s experiment is aimed at empowering teachers and schools with the tools necessary to tackle computer programming in the classroom. The hope is that everyday teachers will realize that this is something they can tackle, given the right resources. Pluralsight is covering all costs. Courses will be taught by the company’s CEO Aaron Skonnard and founders of the Teaching Kids Programming non-profit Lynn Langit, a Microsoft MVP and Google Developer Expert award winner, and Llewellyn Falco, a legacy code expert and international speaker.

The courses resemble art classes, Skonnard tells me, where students are getting their hands dirty, proverbially, and leave each session having created something tangible. The only requirement is an ability to type, and in some cases that isn’t even necessary with the courses making use of drag and drop software builders.

“We’re creating these simple Android games,” he says. “But you should see their faces light up when they see that thing they created on their smartphone.”

Assuming positive feedback following today’s event, pluralsight hopes to expand the program into a permanent element of the curriculum within additional schools. The company plans to work with its authors and educators to continue developing new curriculum. The content will remain free and Pluralsight has no plans at looking to monetize the school education market. Rather it plans to build out a small internal team to focus on project as its way of giving back (and ensuring its own future customers).

"Our goal is to take this nationwide and inspire other schools and communities by demonstrating easy it can be,” Skonnard says.

Pluralsight was bootstrapped for its first eight years, raising its first dollar of outside capital in a $27.5 million round from Insight Venture Partners closed in December 2012. In this regard, and its age, size, and credibility in the online education space, the company is comparable to The primary difference is that while Pluralsight focuses on computer programming education, Lynda is more focused on creative computer applications like design, photography, and media creation.

Unlike elsewhere in the world, the US rarely teaches programming in public schools, and where it does it’s typically as an Advanced Placement class that few kids ever encounter. In a world where app-powered mobile devices are playing an increasingly prominent role in the day-to-day lives of a large chunk of society, this is simply unacceptable.

Pluralsight deserves all the praise in the world for taking on this problem as its philanthropic mission. Here’s hoping that the initiative catches on and that it ends up in every classroom in America in short order.