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Computer Science Is Foundational | Hadi Partovi

This persuasive talk shows how essential and easy it is to gain a foundational understanding of computer science learning principles.


Full talk transcript

I grew up in Tehran, Iran.  This is me with my twin brother — that's me on the left.  When I was 6years old, a brutal monarchy was replaced by a brutal Islamic revolution and a totalitarian regime, and then quickly thereafter a war broke out with our neighboring country of Iraq.  We lived in a neighborhood right next to the television station, so every single evening Saddam Hussein's air raids would bomb our neighborhood trying to hit the TV station, and I’d spend my evenings with my whole family in the basement, holding our ears and hoping our house wouldn't get hit. 

When we were 10 years old, the arc of my life completely changed.   My dad brought us home a computer, a Commodore 64, and he said, “This doesn't have any games on it, but here's a book about computer programming and you can learn to write your own games.”  There wasn't much else to do in Iran at the time, so my brother and I spent a whole lot of time learning how to use that computer.  And by the time our family immigrated to the United States, I was good enough to pay my own way through college as a computer programmer, and I had a great job coming right out of college and then a fantastic career in the tech industry.  And I basically have been living the American Dream.

Computer science is now the fastest spreading course in the history of public education.

The American Dream is no longer about going out West and building a log cabin, and it's much more a worldwide ideal.  America is the land of opportunity and the American Dream is a worldwide ideal about opportunity.  And these days, there's no greater opportunity than to change the world through technology.  And these days, technology affects every field.  It's not just about computers anymore, and it's not just about smartphones or tablets — technologies about medicine, about energy, about space research, about entertainment, about transportation or even far-out things like contact lenses you put in your eyes that have computers in them.  

In this day and age, I look back to my own life and then fast-forward 30 years.  Thirty years later, let's look at a young kid named Armand.  He's in Washington Heights just north of Harlem, going to school at a school that does not teach computer science.  This is Rahel just a few miles from  here in South Seattle; in her entire neighborhood, none of the schools teach computer science.  It makes you think, what will all the careers look like for a student graduating in 2030.  A kid entering kindergarten today will be graduating from college in 16 years. I used to say that you should learn about this stuff unless you want to be getting a job flipping a burger or driving a truck, but in that timeframe, robots will be flipping burgers, and there's already research into trucks that drive themselves.

What does school look like for kids who are going to be graduating in that timeframe?   School has evolved as technology progresses to teach in different ways, and we need to figure out how that change needs to happen now, as well.  When I went to school, every student would learn how to dissect a frog; every student would learn how electricity works; every student would learn how to prove a basic theorem.  And this isn't because we want to come biologists or electricians or mathematicians — not every kid goes into those careers — it's to learn how the world around us works. And in today's day and age, it is just as important for kids to learn what is an algorithm, or how does the Internet work.  Computers are changing everything, yet most schools don't teach computer science. 

Now, I work for an organization called, and so of course you may think I'm here to say our kids should be learning to code, right?  But I'm actually here to say our kids should be learning computer science, which is a much broader field about learning how technology works, learning how software is changing our world, and how to participate in that world.  

Of course computer science education is on the rise because technology is growing, right?  That also is not true: Computer science education is on the recovery after a  ten-year decline.  Here's a chart of computer science graduates over the last ten or 15 years.  You can see we're almost where we were ten years ago, but on the lower bars and for the women in this field, there is half as many women in this field as there were ten years ago.  This is not a good situation to be in, in one of the fastest growing industries in the world.

Now, I'm from the tech industry, so people assume I'm here because the tech industry is desperate to hire more computer programmers.  That also isn’t true. Every industry is desperately trying to hire computer programmers, and this is not just in this state or in California — it’s in every state of this country and in every country in the world.

Computer science of course is about technology, but the reason we should be teaching it to our students is because actually computer science is broader than that. It's about logic, problem-solving and creativity.  This is a picture of the first computer, made in 1943.  Now, consider if computer science is about technology, well, note this is the first computer program written in 1843.  Computer science is not just about building technology, it's about coming up with algorithms and solutions to problems. This lady here, Ada Lovelace, was the first computer programmer who came up with the idea of how our algorithms can manage machines and solve problems.  And so in this day in age, computer science is no longer just vocational for getting a job; in this day and age, computer science is completely foundational for any job you may want to have in the next 20–30 years.

We have on the one hand a job growth that is outpacing student growth 3:1 in this industry, a chance to strengthen the middle class at a time of record inequality, and yet an education system that is stuck in the past.

And so the real question is: Can our public education system evolve?  In a day and age where we have the software and the Internet causing the greatest transformation in our society, changing the fabric of every single job in every single industry, what can our schools do to keep up?  We have on the one hand a job growth that is outpacing student growth 3:1 in this industry, a chance to strengthen the middle class at a time of record inequality, and yet an education system that is stuck in the past.

Most people don't believe that public education can evolve or change, and I'm here to say that not only can it evolve and change, that it is evolving and changing at a record pace never seen before.  Sooner than you think, every school will be teaching computer science.  Sooner than you think, there will be as many girls entering this field as there are boys. Sooner than you think, access to education in this space will not be determined by where you live or the color of your skin. 

A lot of people think this is something that my 10-year-old child can’t learn, or it’s not for my daughter, but there's a lot of people who now think that that's different.  And that's because of a movement that started about a year ago called The Hour of Code.   The Hour of Code is an idea and a grassroots movement that was fueled by over 200 partners. It started with a speech by the President of the United States on the homepage of Google and in every single Apple store and Microsoft store in the country. But most importantly was fueled by 50,000 teachers who believe that their classroom and their students should have access to this new field. Eleven months later, 48 million students have tried One Hour computer science, and these are girls, boys of all ages from 6 years old to 80 years old.  In every single country of the world, but most of them are in middle school and high school.

This thing started with a bang. In one week, we had more girls try computer science in school than in the entire history of the field.  And now people ask me, “Well, what can you learn in one hour?”  In one hour, you're not going to become a software engineer, you're not going to build an app that becomes a multi-million-dollar success. But in one hour, you can learn that computers are fun, you learn that you can write code to manage an angry bird or Elsa, even.  And the code that you write isn’t about typing parentheses or semicolons,  it's about dragging and dropping basic commands to make things happen, and to make cool art.  And while you're making cool art, you also learn about mathematical concepts like angles.  More than anything else, you learn that computer science is easier than you think, it's more fun than you think, and that your 8-year-old daughter can do it.

So then there’s the question of what happens after The Hour of Code, because one hour doesn't teach that much. The Hour of Code really is a seed that is planted in classrooms and in schools. I wanna go back to the students I showed you earlier.  This is Rahel, and her school now has a computer science class and an entire school district in the Highline school district is rolling out computer science classes as an intro class in high school.  This is Armand, and his teacher tried The Hour of Code, and she was so inspired by the children's reaction that she picked up an online course and now every single student in third grade, fourth grade and fifth grade in her school is learning computer science.  In just 11 months, 50,000 new classrooms now teach computer science, reaching two and a half million students as a full course, 40percent of which are girls.  This is a huge, huge transformation. 

This isn't just about memorizing the capitals of countries, it's not about taking tests, it's about creating things.

Computer science is now the fastest spreading course in the history of public education.  In the schools that offer it, students absolutely flock to it.  This is something that kids get engaged in and it relates to their everyday life; they realize this isn't just about memorizing the capitals of other countries, it's not about taking tests, it's about creating things.  Every one of these kids sees technology changing the world around them, they play with tablets or phones and games, and this is a chance for them to actually participate in the world they live in, not just learn how to answer multiple-choice questions.  

At the same time, as it's growing very, very fast, we have a long, long way to go.  We have two million kids enrolled in this field, there are 1,000,000,000 students in the world.  The Hour of Code has so far reached 50,000 schools and almost 50 million students.  Our goal is to get it to 100,000 schools and 100 million students. We’re two weeks away from computer science education week, and the one-year anniversary of The Hour of Code, and we have about 50,000 classrooms signed up to do this exercise again, to plant the seed that's going to bring computer science courses to their neighborhoods, to their schools.

Please help in growing this movement. If you’re a parent, if you’re a teacher, if you’re a student. Get it into a classroom, get a child to try The Hour of Code at

Thank you very much.

Hardi Partovi


Speaker Bio

Hadi Partovi is an entrepreneur, investor and co-founder of, an education nonprofit dedicated to growing computer science education. A graduate of Harvard University, Hadi began his career during the browser wars in the 1990s, when he was Microsoft’s Group Program Manager for Internet Explorer. Hadi was also General Manager of, where he helped deliver 30% annual growth and MSN’s only year of profit. Read more