April 2009

Extreme Succession Planning: Teaching Children to Program – Peter Hinrichsen (Techinsite)

Peter believes he has the tremendous privilege of being involved in the selection of Computer Science graduates for hire. One of his favorite interview questions is “Tell me about something you built when you where a kid that you where especially proud of”. Some candidates look at him as if he is mad. Others lean forward in their chair and start telling him about how they remote-controlled their sisters doll’s house using an old computer from their Dad’s work. These are the people he likes to work with because they have a passion for building and inventing that has its beginning in their childhood.

This recruitment idea has been borrowed from Joel Spolsky”s paper “Finding Great Developers” where he writes:

“The good news about our field is that the really great programmers often started programming when they were 10 years old. And while everyone else their age was running around playing “soccer” (this is a game that many kids who can”t program computers play that involves kicking a spherical object called a “ball” with their feet (I know, it sounds weird)), they were in their dad”s home office trying to get the Linux kernel to compile.”

With Joel”s idea in the front of his mind (great programmers started programming when they where 10) he approached his children”s primary school with the idea of setting up an afterschool club where tech-savvy children could learn to program computers.

They started with seed funding from the school”s Parents” association, two Lego robotics kits and four children. Two years later they have 15 children in the program.

Peter shared his experience setting up a robotics club and teaching children to program. He enthusiastically covered three general topics:

The benefits of teaching children to program;
How to setup an afterschool club for tech savvy children at your school;
The Lego Mindstorms NXT hardware and software they are using, as well as other resources.
Peter hopes more Engineers (And ADUG members?) will take up the challenge. More information is available from http://www.ClubEngineer.Org