Will.i.am: Learn to Code

The Blacked Eyed Peas’ singer Will.i.am publicly challenged his young audience to go out and learn to code. This pop culture idol and his call to action remind me of Betsy DiSalvo’s research on how young African American men learn to program. I met Betsy at Grace Hopper this past year. Oddly, we found ourselves – two of the very few CS educators at the conference – standing in line next to each other for Starbucks coffee. Our coffee-line conversation turned into a two-hour lunch talking about how to teach young people with diverse culture backgrounds, specifically, how to teach them programming concepts in a way that matters to them. 

Betsy’s research suggests that the Georgia Computes! push to increase the number of students in computer science has not yet influenced the African American community because it may not be playing to their values. Glitch is a programming environment that she has used to figure out what young African American men in Atlanta value. As a result, she has modified Georgia Computes to attract this demographic in two major ways: she pays them and trains them to be game-testers which is a real job.



Looking again at Will.i.am’s call-to-action, his ideas include a competition called X Factor for Tech (an attempt to find the next Mark Zuckerberg) and a device he developed himself, the i.am camera for iPhone. When talking about the competition, he says:

It’s about inspiring young kids because it’s one thing to tell a kid ‘hey, music is maybe not something you should do, you should do science’, a kid is not going to take that advice, but if a musician says ‘hey you should get into science, technology, engineering and mathematics’, they’re going to take that totally differently from a person in a field they’re interested in.


Image taken from Betsy Disalvo and Amy Bruckman’s From Interests to Values.


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