A team of pint-sized coders has set up shop in Citrix’s downtown headquarters.
More than two dozen children and young teenagers are part of Project Code at the company, where they learn computer coding basics each week from tech-smart employees.
The free program helps get students familiar with the computer science behind the phones, tablets and other technologies that fascinate them every day. The theory goes that if coding is demystified for the children now, they are more likely to continue in the field.
Each week, the participants work through coding exercises led by Citrix employees. Jason Beale, a software engineer, said he wants his students to walk away knowing that coding isn’t something people are born knowing. It takes practice.
Last Wednesday, he taught a lesson on variables, inviting students to help him come up with a definition of the word. They scribbled math programs on the board to illustrate their ideas and thought about the many items that fit into a category such as television shows.
Only then did they turn to the laptops in front of them and a programming exercise.
“You have to learn the basics before you can start,” Beale told them in a class punctuated by jokes and questions.
All of the participants in Project Code are part of Boys & Girls Clubs of Wake County, with a focus on students ages 9 and older. The program’s leaders are particularly interested in reaching students with racial and ethnic backgrounds that aren’t always well-represented in the tech world.
Amanda Milling, a sales representative at Citrix who helped start the program, said she wants the children to think of the technology field as a place for them, not just something for other people.
“The goal is: You can work here. You can work in tech,” she said. “You can make this a career.”
Gabriel Yarborough, 11, comes to the program from the Raleigh Boys Club. He signed up because he enjoys trying new things. He likes acting, and he recently started learning how to sew.
Coding appeals to him because it uses math. Even if he never pursues technology as a field, he likes that he will have a better understanding of how his gadgets work, including when they break.
“I can just fix it myself and not have to call anyone,” he said.
Leah Knight, 10, said she signed up for the class after her teacher at the Raleigh Girls Club recommended it, knowing that Leah likes computers.
Leah said she likes getting creative during the coding exercises she and her classmates work through at Citrix each week.
“I like that you get to put your imagination into making your own games,” she said.
Citrix, which opened its headquarters in the Warehouse District last year, piloted the program last fall and hopes to expand to include other disciplines tailored to students’ interests, such as design.
Casey Coleman, education director at Raleigh Boys Club, said the program is an engaging one, for students with a range of aptitudes and abilities. Some of the participants who aren’t known for stellar report cards are whiz kids when they sit in the class.
For all of the students, it’s a way to learn a new skill that unlocks the technology that’s such an integral part of their lives.
“I think it’s important to see something that’s interesting to them somewhere other than a textbook,” Coleman said.