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grace

Years ago Grace Francisco was taking apart computers and teaching herself computer science. Today, she is the Global Head of Developer Advocacy at Atlassian and mother to two girls. Though she was the first woman on many of the software teams she’s worked on, Grace is not the first mother to hope her girls grow up feeling comfortable to pursue whatever career appeals to them – including one in computer science.

While kids today may be naturally more familiar with technology than their parents, it doesn’t necessarily prepare them to be next generation of technology creators. Computer science is a skill that must be studied and learned, no matter what age you are when you start using technology.

While kids today are more familiar with technology than their parents, it doesn’t necessarily prepare them to be next generation of technology creators.

But, as any parent knows, it can be tough to teach your kid something new, especially with the allure of exciting games like Pokemon Go. To get a parent’s perspective on computer science learning for kids, we sat down with Grace to learn from her experience teaching her daughters to code.

Why I teach my kids to code

Grace, tell us about your kids.

I have two awesome daughters, ages 7 and 10. I love having children – they’ve totally opened my mind and challenge me every day to keep learning and improving as a parent. My husband and I strive to foster a love of learning in them, walking the fine line between letting them simply be kids and scheduling them in extracurriculars.

What is their relationship to technology like?

Like most kids these days, they are very plugged into technology, though I try to draw limits on tech time for them. I think it’s important that they develop and learn outside all of the technology tools available to us. When we have dinner out at a restaurant or with friends we don’t allow iPads or smartphones to “babysit” or distract them. We want the kids to be able to socialize and communicate outside of tech because these soft skills are so crucially important to their success.

How did you start coding with your girls?

A few years ago I was trying to schedule a tech summer camp for my eldest. Many of the camps looked promising, but the photos on the website were mostly of boys. My daughter took one look and concluded, “That’s just for boys.” That troubled me.

After that, I tried getting them using Scratch as well as Code.org but that interest often dwindled after just the first 10 minutes or so, especially when they could play iPad games like Angry Birds.

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Then, we had a breakthrough moment thanks to a “Bring your child to work” day. I partnered up with one of our Legal folks and led a workshop to show kids how to use Scratch for programming. Seeing a room full of other boys and girls participating made it easy for my girls to enjoy the workshop, too. They had so much fun and developed a new love for tech from the exposure to other people in tech here at Atlassian. My eldest started to say she wanted to go into tech – just like Mommy. ?

Then, when their cousins introduced them to MineCraft and that became their new favorite game,I set up an environment for them to use and program in JavaScript.

What’s fun about teaching kids to code?

I love watching those “aha” moments and the glimmer in their eyes when they see how empowering coding can be.

I remember during one of our programming sessions in Minecraft the girls asked me if they could make a castle. They showed me that if we created a floor of “slime blocks”, we could make our character jump high up into the sky. That was fun for the three of us – I showed them how to take that concept and modify the castle sample code and swap out the block being used for the floor. One simple javascript call on the command line in the game console and – tada! castle!

What’s challenging about it?

Young children can lose focus on topics so I had to adjust and make things for them. I also had to negotiate with them a bit, balancing their play time with their learning time in the game. Baby steps to programming.

What would you recommend for parents without a technical background who want to get their kids coding?

It can be daunting for parents who aren’t in tech because of the complexity in things like setting up development environments. But, the good news is that there are a number of online resourcesand tools available that don’t require a tech background, such as scratch.mit.edu, code.org or iPad apps like Hopscotch. Code.org is great because not only can the kids start to learn but so can the parents alongside them. Start with the visual programming tools, then move on to scripting languages like JavaScript which is such an accessible language for many people. Have fun with it and your kids.

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What do you think the future holds for kids and technology?

I think the possibilities are limitless and my hope is to see more innovative ways to empower kids with technology in a way that how we educate. Tech in classrooms is only just becoming commonplace in schools in the Bay Area. We need to use tech not just in affluent areas but as a means to empower and enable all classrooms around the world.

The things I see Facebook doing to make the internet connectivity available everywhere is wonderful and a foundational element to access the rich information that continues to become available every day. With this, I can foresee programming as a second language becoming a fundamental skill that is learned in school and used in work.

We are surrounded by technology today and that will become ever more so with the advances in Internet of Things (IoT). The speed of innovation will pick up pace as more and more people have the skills needed to solve problems, create new solutions and take us into the future.

What do you hope for your girls specifically as they grow up in this world of technology?

My hope is that they will embrace technology and continue to balance that with developing those critical leadership and relationship skills that you must learn outside of tech. I want them to continue to see the endless possibilities and run with it.

In doing that I hope they bring along a generation of other young girls with them – opening up opportunities, adding their voices to critical discussions in building new solutions and solving world problems. I want my kids’ generation, especially those young girls to know they can do more than previous generations of women and in that they will help to change the world for the better in tech and well beyond.


This post is one in a series on kids and computer science. Get a list of great resources to teach kids computer science, or read about how to volunteer your time teaching computer science in schools. 

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