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This Guy is Wicked Smaht

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Back in October, Launch Academy partnered with VentureFizz and asked for your ideas about how Boston can become the nation’s leader in coding education. This is going to sound like a totally contrived thing to say, but it’s true: there were so many great ideas that we really struggled to pick just one winner. So we settled things the way any mature workplace does: a sword fight.

Just kidding. We put it to a company vote. When the dust settled, the winner was Scott Macmillan. Scott’s essay, like many of the others that were submitted, touched on the importance of providing better coding education in primary and secondary schools. But Scott took it one step further by addressing the meta-issue of brain drain.

With Harvard, MIT, Tufts, Boston College, Boston University, UMass, Northeastern, WPI, and many other universities in the Boston area, the region isn’t exactly hurting for education. The problem, though, is that we’re not keeping all of those brains here—at least when it comes to coding.

Scott saw this as the real challenge facing Boston. The problem isn’t just about becoming a leader in coding education, it’s about becoming a leader in coding, period. That means the city needs to do more than just provide education and cross its fingers hoping people stay—it needs to cultivate local talent. Talent that has permanent ties to the city. Talent that won’t leave the city after a winter where they see a few people commuting on skis or a car casually lying on its side in the middle of the highway

In a perfect world, schools would simply hire expert programmers to teach new state-mandated curriculum. But the reality is that the existing incentive structure doesn’t make this possible. Public schools can’t come close to offering a a salary that’s competitive enough to lure professional programmers away from their existing jobs, and offering current teachers training in real-world programming languages might have the same effect. If teachers could use their new programming skills to double their salary, what incentive would they have to stay? Instead of trying to tackle the incredibly complex problems with the existing incentive structure in the job market for teachers, Scott instead proposed a solution to this problem that could work right away: tap into the fast-growing Boston tech industry for support through company sponsorships and volunteer work.

Scott uses the analogy of a Major League Baseball team establishing a regional farm team to explain his idea. In the plan, Boston-based developers and code educators will establish coding ‘farm teams’ at high schools in the region. Students will be introduced to programming by industry veterans through after-school and weekend classes, with the ultimate goal of preparing high school graduates for entry into a full-time development bootcamp like Launch Academy. It’s time we established a system that is responsive to the emerging reality that software development is a modern vocation, and being an effective developer doesn’t require a Computer Science degree in most cases. Providing an alternative path to economic stability and success for students unable to fork over the insane amount of money it takes to earn a traditional degree is the way forward.

Interested in hearing more from this wicked smaht guy? You’re in luck. I recently sat down with Scott to talk about how he developed the ideas in his essay, his decision to get into programming, and why he chose to attend a bootcamp instead of pursuing other options. More after the jump.

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