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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Gates, Zuckerberg, Other Tech Icons Promote Youth Coding in New Film

A new nonprofit seeking to rally interest among children, parents and schools in computer programming is getting help from some big guns in the tech industry, including the founders of Microsoft, Facebook and Twitter.

Microsoft’s Bill Gates, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey of Twitter and Square are among the tech icons appearing in a short movie being released Tuesday by Code.org, the new nonprofit that wants to make programming classes more widely available in schools.

The organization, founded by Hadi Partovi, a tech entrepreneur and startup adviser and investor, is part of an intensifying effort among technology companies to address a serious shortfall in programming talent. Few schools offer programming classes. Code.org is encouraging people to sign a petition on its Web site stating that every student should have an opportunity to learn to code, and to use that response t! o advocate for greater availability of computer science classes in schools.

Many of the luminaries in the movie describe their first crude programming efforts and attempt to demystify the discipline by comparing it to other interests that students more commonly pursue. “It’s really not unlike playing an instrument or playing a sport,” Drew Houston, the chief executive and cofounder of Dropbox, says in the movie. “It starts out being very intimidating but you kind of get the hang of it over time.”

Mr. Partovi went outside nerd circles to add cachet to programming. The movie features the professional basketball player Chris Bosh of the Miami Heat, who took programming classes as a student, and Will.i.am, the music producer and Black Eyed Peas frontman. “Here we are, 2013, we all depend on technology to communicate, to bank, and none of us know how to read and write code,” Will.i.am says in the film. “It’s important for these kids, right now, starting at 8 years old, to read and rite code.”

Code.org also secured endorsements for youth programming from a much broader group of celebrities from politics, business and education, including Bill Clinton, Eric Schmidt of Google, Randi Weingarten of the American Federation of Teachers and the theoret! ical phys! icist Stephen Hawking.

Mr. Partovi said Microsoft has provided financial support to show the film in Regal movie theaters as an advertisement for a week starting this Friday. Mr. Zuckerberg will promote it to his Facebook followers and Google will feature it on YouTube, Mr. Partovi said.