Kids CODEcamp aimed at building stronger, more diverse workforce for local tech industry

CODEcamp, a coding workshop held by the Charleston Digital Corridor that has been aimed at adults since it was launched three years ago, will be offered for the first time to kids this summer. (Alyssa Murkin/staff/file).

In the latest attempt to address the tech industry’s scarce talent pool, the Charleston Digital Corridor is taking workforce training to a whole new level, or more specifically: an elementary school level.

This summer, the corridor will introduce a kids’ version of its CODEcamp, a workshop that has been primarily aimed at teaching adults how to build websites and develop software. While a few middle school students have passed through the adult course over the past three years, corridor director Ernest Andrade said the summer camp will broaden the program’s reach to kids ages 6-13.

The idea is to get young children interested in tech careers by teaching them the basic engineering skills behind the technologies they’re familiar with. For instance, the sessions for younger students will center on how to create commands to build a simple video game or design a website.

“They’ll be able to make a character on the video screen move, or jump, and add music … so the skills they’ll be getting will be masked in games and having fun,” said Carolyn Finch, the program director.

“To get kids’ attention, you have to make them curious,” Andrade added. “Now, at age three, you have kids learning how to use smart phones ... so we know that they’re capable of absorbing this stuff early on.”

Initiatives like CODEcamp Kids are popping up all over the country to help grow the workforce the technology industry desperately needs to remain globally competitive.

“We’re not doing this as a give-back-to-the-community, esoteric type of thing,” Andrade said. “We’re doing this because this is what communities who want to grow a strong technology and software economy have to do.”

Tech companies from Charleston to Silicon Valley all suffer from a shortage of skilled workers and software developers. And worse, the talent pool feeding the industry is predominantly white and male. Experts say more public initiatives to expose kids to high-tech career paths will eventually improve the size and racial mix of that pipeline.

CODEcamp Kids addresses both issues, Andrade said. The program will offer 12 scholarships to the three sessions this summer for black students, which will include the cost of the course and a Chromebook laptop to continue fostering their interest in the computer science field beyond the summer course.

“So if they don’t have a computer at home, this will make sure there’s nothing that can limit them from being able to keep developing these skills,” Finch said.

The scholarship program is funded by the Charleston Digital Corridor Foundation, the non-profit arm of the corridor.

Web developers at Blue Acorn such as Shawn Foster are volunteering to teach all the courses this summer. The local firm specializes in building e-commerce websites.

Foster, a former Berkeley Middle School teacher, also instructs many of the adult courses. He said he’s eager to work with kids again, particularly on such a life-relevant subject.

“I think children growing up now almost have to be immersed in technology, and they have to understand how to use it to be successful as adults,” he said. “Providing them with these opportunities to use these technologies and learn about how to develop them gives them a leg up on the world they’re about to grow up in.”

Reach Abigail Darlington at 937-5906 and follow her on Twitter @A_Big_Gail