Coding for kids is our catalyst

Vancouver, our beloved town is growing. However, so is our sibling across the river and the shadow it casts. Portland’s impact is felt during each morning commute as traffic backs up farther and farther into our community.

I own one of the proud technology companies in Vancouver, which has been my home for 20+ years and where my wife and I brought up four terrific kids. I have met inspiring business and education leaders in the community, and the collective empathy is producing a groundswell under our feet. I don’t think our town will be the unnamed suburb of Portland for long. Talent and technology will continue to converge in Vancouver, creating businesses and jobs that will eventually save thousands from the Portland commute.

Expertise is growing all around our town. I see it in our growing technology companies like DiscoverOrg. I see it at WSUV and Clark College campuses, where young adults are choosing technology careers. I see it in the 500 people attending a SQL Saturday event last October at WSUV. I see it in our schools where young kids are getting opportunities to become technologists as STEM programs and iTech Preparatory innovate new curriculums. I see it in the kids coding and robotic meetups springing up in businesses and in our libraries.

Our challenge lies in supply and demand. Step outside and you will find high demand for tech jobs. The Washington STEM program makes a good case that demand will keep growing for the next 10 years (http://bit.ly/wa_stem_challenge ). On the supply side, Vancouver is short. Tech companies locate in Portland to follow the available talent, even in the face of additional income taxes.

Teaching kids to code can be the catalyst. We can cure our supply problem and attract tech companies by thinking long-term:

As we help kids gain confidence that they can code in middle school, there is a much higher chance their interest will remain through the distracting high school years.

As we give high school kids opportunities to lead and teach code to kids, we help set them apart in leadership skills (which they love) and rescue them from less rewarding jobs.

As we mentor our college students to teach kids technology, they earn leadership and networking opportunities in a job that is focused on their career.

Then we connect the number of talented people in the workforce with professors to mentor the college students. Just sit back and see how many of these students get jobs from this connection and choose to stay in town (I am already working with three students in my company).

With all this new collaborative interest in technology, the bar will be raised, commerce will grow to support the effort, new startups will sprout and the roots of technology talent will deepen.

By applying the right inputs, this talent-generating system can build on itself, and suddenly we will find ourselves in a thriving tech community where companies see Vancouver as the place to be.

You can help make this happen. Here’s how:

  • Find a kids coding club and join the leadership. We started a weekly kids coding club three years ago on the west side of town (www.gointerject.com/kids-coding-clubs). A new club is in the works for the east side, and more should follow.
  • Join the leadership in the local tech community. The downtown Vantechy meetup (www.meetup.com/VanTechy) is where the technologists are starting to plug in. Whether it’s coding for kids or coding meetups for adults, or simply a place to keep up on tech, it’s a place to stay connected.
  • Get involved in STEM. They have a page on their site just for this opportunity. http://bit.ly/wa_stem_getinvolved.
  • Simply contact me. There is a group of us that are collecting at Vantechy to do more. I will get you plugged in!

Jeff Honsowetz is the president of Interject Data Systems in Vancouver. He can be reached at JeffH@gointerject.com.

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