on reaching the next 100 million computer scientists (SIGCSE keynote)

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The following is an adapted transcription from the keynote address given at the 2014 SIGCSE conference by Hadi Partovi, founder of


Thanks for the warm welcome!

Last year, SIGCSE (Special Interested Group on Computer Science Education) was a week after our launch. It questioned our motives, and existence. We made a video, and that that video got 12 million views, so I built an organization around it.

This year, I was welcomed very warmly. I was up until 3 AM last night, which helped remind me that Computer Science educators are not only the coolest, but also the most innovative.

For those who aren't familiar with, there are lots of opinions of what we are. Lots of people think of us as a marketing org that makes videos of celebs, a coalition of tech folks filling Computer Science jobs, a political advocacy organization for educators and technologists, the organizer of the Hour of Code, a software engineering house, a curriculum writing team, and a grassroots movement to bring together for-profit, non-profit, and Governmental organizations on a united goal.

Our vision: Computer Science taught in every school to every student. Not required necessarily, but definitely the opportunity to take Computer Science available to all.

Three things we talk about

  1. Bridging the student/job gap. Politicians think about this a lot
  2. Reaching underrepresented students, and the social justice implied in doing so
  3. Computer Science is foundational for the 21st century. Doctors, lawyers, even the President of United States, need to know about this field

As early as 15 years ago, I asked our Dean why don't we do these things, he said "give it 15 years, it will fix it self." But it didn't...

The myths

  1. We're all hype and only do Hour of Code. In fact, we have 15 staff at this event alone and we're always working.
  2. We want to do everything by ourselves. In reality, we have over 100 partners who help us do everything we do.
  3. We are only about "coding" or learning to code. This is probably due to the name mostly, but if we called ourselves "computer science for the masses," our URL would be, which is just as confusing as any other acronym.
  4. People assume is about the software industry coming to tell schools how to do their jobs. I have a Computer Science background, and I've gotten software companies to fund, but that doesn't mean they run it. Much of our money is spent in Kindergarten on kids who will never become computer scientists.

The difference between computational thinking versus programming for CS is clear to all of us, but for the average person it may be jumbled. We don't just want people to learn to code, we want people to learn to think. We are disrupting things—not the natural order, but the previous order. We want to disrupt education in a goodway.

The pillars of

  1. Educate: Bring CS to all K12 schools in US. This is the biggest job we're trying to tackle. Making curriculum, and working within school districts.
  2. Advocate: Remove legislative barriers, make CS part of core academic standards.
  3. Celebrate: Combat stereotypes that prevent more students from joining in CS.

Hour of Code highlights

  • 28 Million students, in 35,000 classrooms
  • 48% were girls! (huge applause from audience)
  • 30 languages, 170 countries: many volunteers helped translate
  • Insanely high ratings (97% positive vs .2% negative). This was our first time doing something "real" in public schools, and this rating came from teachers. 75% gave it a 5 and 22% gave it a 4.
  • 20-hour K-8 introductory course: 800,000 students are participating in 13,000 classrooms; 40% girls!
  • School district partnerships: 23 districts, including the #1, #3, and #6 in the US. We've held professional Development workshops this summer for ~500 teachers from K12.
  • State advocacy: we changed policy in five states, with eight more on deck!
  • A lean team: we hired eight full-time staff

How did we do all this? Partnerships across industry, non-profit, government:

Pillar #1: Educate has a developed a full K-12 curriculum:

  • 20 hour modules all the way to middle school
  • Aligned to Common Core standards in math and ELA
  • Middle school modules go into Math and Science classes. Teaching Math science via Computer Science
  • High school intro course, and a high school AP course has two different models for how we spread.

First is the Online Model, where we're focused on putting more courses and curriculum online for teachers and students. The lower the grade, the more freedom teachers seem to have. 3rd grade teachers teach math, sure, but they are not just a math teacher, and can find ways to integrate code into more activities. This is extremely cost effective, about $0.05/student!

Then there's the District Model, where the district provides teachers, classrooms, computers we provide: stipend, curriculum, and marketing. This helps make sure there is no cost to the school for adopting a Computer Science curriculum. Managing costs for scale: around $5K-10K/high school, $5,000 x 20,000 high schools who don't have CS; that adds up. is looking into developing things like:

  • State level Teacher Certification Exams
  • Incentives/scholarships for studying CS in Schools of Education.
  • Building a pipeline of pre-service teachers

We've found the Holy Grail for online curriculum is to make learning feel like a game. An online curriculum makes teacher's lives easier. This is not about making an "end-run" at teachers; Web-based curriculum reduces the IT hassle Significantly! Most high school CS teachers in this room, also double as the de facto IT person in the school!

(audible "yes" from many and laughter heard around the room)

As long as the IT Department doesn't blacklist us, you can get to our IDE and curriculum. We have a team of engineers working together to blend curriculum and game design. We're still early on in evaluating the results. In the web-world, you run the data through Hadoop and/or Hive, and we've got 10M datapoints.

Some ways people can help


  • Bring a Computer Science Principles course to your institution
  • Partner with your School of Education to bring more Computer Science into the Ed program - ideally a teaching-methods course, or any Computer Science Endorsement.
  • Give support/instruction to the "tech ed" courses at local high schools.
  • Help scale by offering K-5 workshops for us! Email if interested.


  • Convince your local school district to teach CS. ( will enter new regions if 30+ high schools are on board)

  • Help us improve our curriculum ( The Hour of code is behind us now, but we're still getting 1M students to the site every week!

Pillar #2: Advocate

Computer Science is foundational! Every student should have access. Computer Science should be core academic offering in school, not just a vocational elective on the side. takes a broad approach. We make recommendations for states to adopt. For further reading see The ACM Report Rebooting Pathways to Success.

At the national level, we have the Computer Science Education Act, which has bi-partisan sponsors in both houses. It says more or less that STEM funding can be used for Computer Science. It's a highly non-controversial bill. Small amount of optimism that it will be passed, but since this is the most unproductive congress ever...

At the state level, we want schools to allow Computer Science to satisfy existing high school math/science graduation requirements. At the university level we want to make Computer Science count. We want Computer Science to satisfy math/science College admissions requirements. We need universities to recognize the above point.

Where it counts

  • CS enrollment is 50% higher in states where it counts
  • 37% more participation by African American and Hispanic students
  • Calculus enrollment remained unchanged
  • We have legislation on deck for states like: FL, NY, IL, CA, AZ, OK OK
  • We have policy recommendations in the works on a district level in states like: WA, KY, MI, CO, MA

We're going to start a collaborative whitepaper for universities to accept AP/IB Computer Science to satisfy math/science requirements.

Pillar #3: Celebrate

Hour of Code is a hard act to follow. Fastest web technology to reach 15 million users! It took Tumblr 3 years, and Instagram 14 months. We did it in 5 days. 

More girls participated in US schools in Computer Science Education Week in seven days, than the last 70 Years.

(huge applause from SIGCSE audience)

The 2014 Computer Science Education Week is December 8-14. Our goal is that 100 million students try The Hour of Code in 2014. It will require participation by a majority of US students, plus broad international participation. You can help by asking your school to participate, and by buying and wearing swag.

Closing thoughts

Computer Science is at an incredible inflection point. There are people here doing what I've been doing for 10 times longer. If you've tried before and failed, try again. It wasn't easy to get the President to talk about Computer Science, but it was easier than ever before. Leverage the numbers that are now possible.

With shared goals, anything is possible.

After his keynote address, Hadi generously obliged the author with a one-on-one follow-up interview. Below are his responses.

Where are you from?

I'm originally form Tehran, Iran, and now from Bellevue Washington. is based in Seattle, Washington.

Where did you study?

Harvard grad, BS/MS in Computer Science, 1994.

Any clubs/activities outside of school?

Our computer programming team, took 7th in the world in the ACM International Collegiate Programming Competition my senior year.

Why did you start

I think the fundamental reason, is it should happen. Anyone who tries Computer Science and programming, a lightbulb goes on. It teaches creativity and it is powerful. It seems un-American that 90% of schools don't offer Computer Science. I'm living the dream, sure, but it is a dream that 90% of kids won't have access to.

Fewer schools teach Computer Science now than 10 years ago. This lack of Computer Science is breaking the American Dream.

The very seed of was a technology roundtable in December of 2011 with President Obama. As I was listening to myself speak, I thought "no one is going to do something about this..." In March of 2012, I was at a conference with Jack Dorsey and Drew Houston. I talked about making a video, which started as a hobby idea, but as soon as they said "yes" I've been on a path that hasn't relented since.

What are your thoughts on Free/Open Source Software?

Personally I firmly believe that education should be as free and open as possible. The intellectual property around education should be both free and open source. All the curriculum we create will be licensed Creative Commons, and all the code open source. We want the community and volunteers to help us. We get asked all the time "Can you do this? Can you do that?" and the best answer is "Here is the source code, go ahead and do it."

We've made tutorials where we have Angry Birds and pigs, and countries tell us that that is a religious issue. When it is open source, we tell them to change it, and they can.

We have prisons that want to use our stuff, but can't have Internet, so we want them to adapt offline versions of our code.

Those are things that we didn't even imagine when we started, and can happen through open source.

Final thoughts?

Even if you are not an engineer, it takes five minutes to see how fun the tutorials are. Even as an adult, you can learn to code too!

If you want to get involved, is the place for people who want to help us.


This derivative work by Remy Decausemaker is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.


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At the Fedora Project Remy served as Community Action and Impact Lead, bringing more heat and light to the distro's user and contributor base.

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Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International License.