It’s hardly possible to imagine schools not teaching kids how to write. No essays, no poetry, no reports or creative writing. For Alice Steinglass, president of Code.org, that scenario isn’t a whole lot different than failing to teach kids some basic computer science.
“While we are seeing this wave of interest and excitement, it’s still the case that less than half the schools in America are teaching computer science right now,” Steinglass said.
Her organization is working to change that. Code.org is a nonprofit founded in 2013 by twin, Iranian-born brothers and tech entrepreneurs Hadi and Ali Partovi. The Seattle-based group produces computer science courses for students from kindergarten through high school. It provides workshops and training programs, preparing tens of thousands of educators to teach the subject. Code.org also works with education and software companies to run Hour of Code, an international event to promote coding that has reached tens of millions of students in more than 180 countries.
By giving kids the tools for writing code and building apps and software, “it’s giving people another way to find their voice,” Steinglass said.
Code.org has reached 29 million students with its computer science classes. Of those, 45 percent are female, 48 percent are minority students underrepresented in the tech sector and about half are low-income kids.
“We’re working really hard to reach those students,” Steinglass said. That includes actively recruiting and coaching administrators to encourage these kids to participate, and designing instruction materials that are appealing to a diverse group of students.
One of the big hurdles now is getting more educators prepped to teach computer science.
“The challenge is that most of our teachers in America didn’t get to learn computer science in school. We need teachers who are willing to learn a new subject,” she said. “It’s a critically important change for the 21st Century.”
Steinglass remembers her own high school computer science teacher, and the confidence that experience gave her when she enrolled in computer science courses at Harvard University. After graduation, Steinglass worked on Xbox and led various teams at Microsoft for 14 years, including managing a HoloLens team.
“I’ve seen the challenges of not having broad representation on our teams,” she said. “By improving our education system to be more welcoming and inclusive, we can give more women and unrepresented minorities more opportunities to be in computer science.”
We caught up with Steinglass for this Working Geek, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for her answers to our questionnaire.
Current location: Seattle
Computer types: Macbook Pro
Mobile devices: iPhone
Favorite apps, cloud services and software tools: For work, it’s Google Docs, OneNote, Slack, Trello and 1Password. For personal use, podcasts, Spotify, Facebook groups and Hulu.
Describe your workspace. Why does it work for you? The two important most aspects of workspace for me are the commute and sunlight. Luckily, our office is right on top of the bus tunnel downtown and big windows let in tons of natural light (to the extent anyone gets sunlight in Seattle).
As for my desk setup, I really only need enough space for a laptop. These days, I think our workspaces are really the apps we have open; my physical environment is simply a comfy chair and a screen. Our open office means that I have background white noise of typing to help me focus most of the time and the occasional bad pun to keep me on my toes (my podmates love puns).
Your best advice for managing everyday work and life? Get comfortable saying no.
I love what we’re doing at Code.org, so I’m definitely motivated to go the extra mile. But I also make sure that I set some personal goals to keep myself centered and force myself out of the office. And, then I work hard to say “no” to everything else. Pinterest sets an unrealistic, intimidating bar with customized minion cupcakes and matching curtains for kids’ birthdays.
I don’t do any scheduled teams or activities with the kids on weekends or evenings and my garage could really use cleaning. But, that’s been true for five years and I’m not doing anything about it any time soon. Instead, the kids spent an hour last night on our Slip ‘N Slide with all the neighbors.
Your preferred social network? How do you use it for business/work? For work LinkedIn is great for hiring, and at home I use the Facebook groups feature.
Current number of unanswered emails in your inbox? I can’t count that high. I just ignore the spam rather than deleting all of it, so yeah, it piles up.
Number of appointments/meetings on your calendar this week? 31
How do you run meetings? Our team is partially remote, so most of our meetings are centered around Google Docs. We start by writing down our ideas and collaboratively editing and revising our plans through Google comments. After we’ve identified contentious questions, we discuss them.
Everyday work uniform? In the last 10 years, I’ve switched from jeans and company t-shirts to colorful dresses and leggings. It’s now way more fun to get dressed and leggings are both comfortable and practical.
How do you make time for family? My husband and I save every Friday night for date night. No kids. No work. Just us. I rarely work weekends, which means I generally have Saturday and Sunday for the kids and an hour or two most nights before they go to bed. We also have a nanny who helps immensely. With her handling grocery shopping, errands, etc., I can spend most of my time at home actually enjoying my family.
Best stress reliever? How do you unplug? This week, the two best stress relievers were throwing a frisbee with my fifth-grader and reading “Ender’s Game” with my seventh-grader.
What are you listening to? Podcasts. My favorites are Radiolab, Planet Money, Rough Translation and everything similar.
Daily reads? Favorite sites and newsletters? Every morning I wake up to NPR affiliate KUOW, where I catch up on local and national news. Over breakfast, I read the major news sites and education news outlets and stories. In terms of fun newsletters and sites to recommend, I recently discovered TinyLetter. It’s a well curated list of interesting articles on random topics that have nothing to do with anything in particular.
Book on your nightstand (or e-reader)? “Thinking, Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman
Night owl or early riser? Naturally a night owl, but with kids I’ve become an early riser. My new favorite part of the day is a cup of coffee alone in the morning before people wake up.
Where do you get your best ideas? My team and our teachers — we have an amazing team. They are here because they are passionate about the cause and have one great idea after another. Many of these ideas come from their personal experiences in classrooms, including learning from the things that didn’t work.
Whose work style would you want to learn more about or emulate? I have a number of friends who inspire me with the way they’ve turned their passions into movements. Among many others, Katie Bethell (founder and executive director of PL+US), Dona Sarkar (engineering leader of Windows Insiders, a published author, fashion designer and a leader in using tech for good) and Kieran Snyder (CEO and founder of Textio) are all inspirations to me. They’ve coupled their writing and voices with strong business direction and innovative ideas. The results are amazing!
PL+US has improved workplace policies for millions of workers, Insiders for Good has helped 25 new social ventures get started and Textio is redoing the way Fortune 500 companies think about hiring, writing and more.