What I learned by coding with kids on my summer vacation at That Conference, an essay by Sharon

It was a perfect moment.

I’m at last year’s That Conference, sitting in the big dining hall, while people step up to a microphone at the other end of the room and announce the Open Spaces session they will convene over the next few days. I’ve got three brain cells listening, mostly I’m eating and cogitating (ha, applying both senses of the word “ruminating,” eh?).

A voice cuts across the din, silencing the room. Clear as a bell, Cori Drew’s daughter states that she will convene a session showing Scratch, the programming language, at 2:00 on Tuesday. Her voice is so young, yet her words so organized and self-possessed, that I get a chill (and write down the time of the session). The room bursts into applause.

So I went to that talk. Friends, you have no idea. Katelyn, then nine years old, showed a PowerPoint presentation, gave a demo, coded live, fielded questions from grown-ups and kids, and tried things on the fly in her IDE in response to those questions. I learned a lot, and had to try it out for myself when I got home. (See a proud mama’s pictures.)

What inspired me most was watching the interaction between Katelyn and another girl the same age, who was as enthusiastic about learning Scratch as Katelyn is. Questions and smiles and edge of her seat, she was leaning in so far. I saw them together for the rest of the conference, and I mused, “There it is. That’s the answer. They’re too young to know that girls don’t code.” I had to become a part of making a space where more of that could happen.

I’ve signed on with this year’s That Conference Family Track planning committee. I can’t wait. I’m putting together a hands-on workshop of electronics for small (supervised) fingers. Kids and parents and blinky LEDs! What more could I want?

Well. For one: you to be there. And if you have kiddos, to bring those kiddos; and if you don’t, to come hang out and code with other people’s kiddos. That Conference is held during summer vacation at an indoor waterpark. srsly.

That Conference and ones like it spur the minds of the next generation of developers. If you wanna get pragmatic about it, we’re mentoring our future employees. College and high school are too late. For our future talent pool to represent the full rainbow of human experience, we need to encourage geeklets in elementary school.

In addition to all that, the conference offers an engaging and useful professional track. Y’know, for grown-up developers. Submit a talk to That Conference when the call for speakers opens on 3/31. We are gonna have fun.

Maybe that shouldn’t be settable