Marc Benioff, Reid Hoffman, and 28 other tech heavyweights beg Gov. Jerry Brown to help get coding into CA schools

By Carmel DeAmicis , written on May 7, 2014

From The News Desk

Today some of the biggest names in tech came together to make a stand. It wasn’t a stand for immigration reform or a stand for shuttle-bus stopping rights. It was for something far less sexy: Coding classes.

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, Square CEO Jack Dorsey, investor Vinod Khosla, Dropbox CEO Drew Houston, LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman, Yelp’s Jeremy Stoppelman, and Netflix’s Reed Hastings joined a list of 30 that reads like the who’s who of Silicon Valley. All the participants signed a letter to California’s Governor Jerry Brown to explain the need for programming courses in California’s public school system. A choice excerpt:

Computer science education draws overwhelming support — not only from the tech industry and its leaders, but among regular Americans who want their children to be prepared for the software century.

We would be grateful if you and your staff would consider meeting with a subset of us to discuss how we can work together and make California a computer science trailblazer.

Coding isn’t some magic cure-all to deeper societal issues of income inequality and poverty. Teaching it in schools is by no means a guarantee that the students who take it will go onto high paying programming jobs.

But it is a skill that opens doors to an industry where the median salary is $93,350 per year, $65,000 more than the national median salary of $27,519. By giving children basic programming tools early on, schools expose them to the job possibilities and show them they can learn to code, even if they're not math or science whizzes.

When interviewing Michael Sayman, the 17-year-old who helped pay his family’s home mortgage during the recession on the money he made off apps he coded at 13, he said his Florida private school was not supportive of his endeavors. They had no coding classes and didn’t take what he was doing seriously, to the point where they penalized his grades when he took a few days off to fly to San Francisco because Mark Zuckerberg wanted to meet him. “It’s a sad thing that my school doesn’t care about coding because in 20 years everything you do you’ll need to know some code,” Sayman says.

The letter to the governor is an attempt to keep that from being the case in California's schools. The mastermind behind the campaign is, the organization best known for its Hour of Code marketing campaign, which roped in the likes of Shakira and Barack Obama to promote teachers spending an hour giving students an overview about what programming is and what job opportunities come from it.

But the lesser known work of the non-profit is far more important. is lobbying for legislative reform in various states to make programming classes count for science or math requirements. At the same time, it’s trying to convince districts to introduce coding courses, going to the extent of spending $1 million of its own money to pay engineers and consultants to teach 600 teachers how to code this summer.

What we’re seeing is — hopefully — the big, initial push to get the boulder of programming education rolling. Today’s letter, although a symbolic gesture more than an impactful one, places the spotlight where it should be: On the political system. Having big names like Marc Benioff and Jack Dorsey sign what is essentially a petition for reform puts the pressure on Governor Jerry Brown.

We’re beginning to see the rumblings of a coding revolution happen in the American school system. Chicago was one of the first to go, with the city vowing to roll out coding classes in all its K-8 public schools in the next five years. Texas was next, with the state mandating that all high schools offer at least two computer science classes. Pockets of reform have picked up with districts from Denver to New York City accepting’s help training teachers this summer on programming.

California, land of the code and home of the geek, is the next sensible place for reform. This is where Apple, Cisco, Facebook, and most other tech companies you could name got its start. We’re the ones suffering from a talent drought, with executives desperately bidding up engineers’ salaries.

If any state needs more people who know how to code, it’s California. Hopefully the Governor will agree.

[illustration by Brad Jonas for Pando]