It was a beautiful late spring day in 2015, I was chatting with a friend of mine who is a professor at Stanford University and several of her students. The topic of when they started learning coding came up. It turned out a couple of students started when they were 6. So I joked, “my daughter will turn 7 in a few weeks. We don’t have much time left if she wants to meet that coding at 6 bar.” :).
Obviously, I was joking. But it did get me thinking. As a woman in the high tech industry, I had helped various girls STEM initiatives over the years. So maybe it was time to introduce my own daughter to more computer science.
Getting started was far from smooth though. While it is easy to have kids do a couple of coding things for fun, it is much harder to have them willingly sit down and learn it systematics and enjoy it every time. Over the next couple of years, through trial and error (topic for another long blog :)), I went from teaching my daughter to teaching her friends, to teaching her school classes… kids all loved it. So by the time she was finishing 3rd grade, we had done a lot of coding in Scratch and on Minecraft.
Then we hit a wall — what’s next? Python, Java, HTML?
To me, it is not that meaningful to learn a programming language for the sake of learning it. They are tools she can learn easily when she needs them. So what are the more important STEM topics to learn at a young age? And even more fundamentally, we are not trying to force a career path to our children, so what should be the goal of STEM learning for her? What’s most valuable to her?
Now to the other thread…
With a Computer Science PhD and a Stanford MBA, I had focused on technology products throughout my career. In my last few years at Google, I worked on Google Cloud Platform — started as one of the first couple of PMs on the team and later on as the PM Director. The role gave me the rare opportunity, even for people in hightech, to see how technologies like cloud, big data, and artificial intelligence are revolutionizing every industry.
For example, the ability to understand and extract insights from data has become essential for success everywhere, whether it is for business people, doctors, and even journalists, etc. And perhaps the most important of all, the rapid development of AI make skills like creativity and critical thinking more important than ever. These skills transcend any specific career paths, open many doors for kids, and are exactly the kind of things that will bring lifelong benefits to kids regardless of what they eventually choose to do.
So there lies the answer to my earlier “what’s most valuable” question.
I started teaching my daughter and her friends a diverse set of hightech topics such as data science and AI. It goes way beyond delivering just the knowledge at an age-appropriate level. It is a thoughtful combination of a number of key things — developing creativity and critical thinking skills, learning STEM, understanding real world applications of technologies, and my observations of what make successful people who they are, including Andy Grove and Eric Schmidt, whom I had the great fortune to learn from when I was at Stanford.
So how did a personal thing for my daughter & her friends become Create & Learn? Good question. :) Once I started teaching, friends who are parents working in high tech and Stanford, all loved it. No surprise there. :) I also showed it to teachers at top schools to get their feedback. It is their responses that made us realize that we had started something special — beyond personal needs of a small group. We then talked to experts in K-9 STEM education. The responses were consistent — what we set to do is unique and very valuable for kids to help reach their full potentials, and we should bring it to more kids.
You might have noticed the ‘I’ turned into a ‘we’ above. I was very lucky to find co-founders who are passionate about the same mission early on. Create & Learn was born. The rest have been a lot of hard work, sweat, and laughters like any startups, and more importantly, the rewards of seeing kids learn and love it!