A new organization seeks to strengthen Kansas City’s tech talent pipeline by bringing computer science education to underserved youth.
Co-founded by David Persley and Joe Wilkinson in 2016, Code the Block is an after-school program targeting high school students in Kansas City. Persley, a Teach for America alum, and Wilkinson, a former business analyst with Kansas City-based Code Koalas, said the curriculum is set to launch this fall.
Wilkinson said that the skills students will learn from the program can help them regardless of whether they pursue a tech career or not.
“Computer science isn’t particularly hard — it’s just hard work,” Wilkinson said. “It’s perfectly logical, the computer program will run perfectly every time and if there is a mistake, it’s your fault. Those logic-based problem-solving skills will transfer to all aspects of life.”
Wilkinson said the program aims to fill a key gap in Kansas City’s entrepreneurial community.
There are just under 5,000 open tech jobs in Kansas City, according to a recent report by the KC Tech Council. This is partially due to the fact that there simply aren’t enough workers with technical skills in the Kansas City area.
“For a lot of kids in high school, they aren’t getting any computer science exposure at all,” Persley said. “For many students, Code the Block will be their first touch point. We want to do it in a way that will be meaningful, relevant and rigorous so that the students can hopefully land internships and jobs on the other side.”
Persley said he believes there’s pushback against computer science education in schools because it’s difficult to comprehend its importance. He wants to be a part of changing that.
“With algebra, we learned that although you may not see its importance now, you’ll be able to see it down the road,” Persley said. “I think the analogy is even more applicable now than ever for computer science.”
Wilkinson said he has big goals to change the landscape of computer science education in Kansas City. He believes that with the right educational opportunities and tools, Code the Block can transform the area’s workforce and community for the better.
“Everyone has been super excited about the idea and supportive,” Wilkinson said. “I think we’re in a good position because now that people are excited about an idea, we just have to prove that it’ll be successful.”
Persley added that in his experience with computer science education he’s found that the focus is mainly on young children. He said it’s important to not forget about older, high school-aged students, as the computer science industry needs workers now.
Computer science and technology will eventually enter every industry, Wilkinson said.
“Even if it’s not your core business, you’re going to need some kind of technology and software that runs it,” Wilkinson said. “If we’re not providing computer science education to kids — especially in the urban core — then we are leaving them out of tomorrow’s economy, which is unacceptable in my opinion. We need diverse perspectives and we as a city will lose out if we haven’t tapped all of our potential.”