“Learning to write programs stretches your mind, and helps you think better, creates a way of thinking about things that I think is helpful in all domains.” – Bill Gates
Our kiddos’ generation is growing up post-Google, in what is best known as the digital age. With kids as young as three having their own tablet (those leapfrog pads count!) and learning to use iPads faster than the next person, we as parents want to make sure we’re keeping up with the times. I sat down with Michelle Sun, founder and CEO of First Code Academy to learn more about coding, the opportunities this generation has to shape the future and how mamas like myself can get involved.
Tell us about yourself! What’s your background and how did you get into coding?
I was born and raised in Hong Kong. I left for university in Chicago to study finance and part of my job included research analysis covering the technology industry. I was fascinated by what was happening in that realm and made a switch to the tech industry by learning code at the age of 25. It wasn’t easy! I started working full time as a software engineer in San Francisco and was invited to teach a coding class to young girls at Stanford University. This experience was meaningful to me as I got to do something I enjoyed (coding!) as well as try something new, teaching. I wanted to bring what I saw in students in the States back to Hong Kong.
What inspired you to start First Code Academy in HK?
It was all a very serendipitous. I was having a catch up with my good friend, Jennifer who’s an entrepreneur in Hong Kong. We were talking about starts up and I shared how inspired I was by teaching in the Bay Area and she encouraged me to do something about it. We decided to pitch our idea of a coding academy in Hong Kong to Google and they sponsored us!
First Code Academy (FCA) is very close to my heart. Attending an all girls school in Hong Kong, I was often the top student in maths. That being said, maths, technology and engineering are not always careers or hobbies that are encouraged for girls. I believe that young girls need more role models in this field. So when FCA first began we started off with a girls only coding workshop and it grew from there.
We love what you’ve done with the FCA space – what was your inspiration behind the rooms and their names? What are some cool features of your space?
Our rooms are named after famous computer scientists. They are Zukerberg, Musk, Tesla, Edison, Turing and Jobs. One the special features in our academy is the 3D printer found in the Musk room. Our instructors have built the Leaning Tower of Pisa as well as the Shanghai Pearl Tower!
We love the framed poster in your academy that says, “Done is better than Perfect”. With all the pressure children have in the school system today, why do you think this message is relevant?
This poster was gifted to me by my friend who’s an engineer at Facebook. The Facebook headquarters used to have this poster all over their walls as a message to inspire and remind their team of this work ethic. I feel like this really applies to kids in Hong Kong growing up in this education system and culture. Having gone through the system myself, I always felt the pressure to be perfect. The message of 99% on a test is never as good as 100% is so prevalent! There is so much pressure to be the perfect student.
This generation of kids are growing up post-google and they can access any information at their fingertips any time and anywhere. FCA believes that the next generation of leaders are not only people who can simply access information but people who will create with that information. But what holds back a creative mindset? It’s the fear of failure. Perfectionism holds people back.
Done is better than perfect is something we want our students to remember. There is no such thing as “perfect” in writing software. There will always be bugs and ways to improve your programming.
Why do you think it’s so important for this generation to learn how to code?
Coding is a life skill. Think of it as the second language of the world. It’s best to compare it to Mandarin. 15 years ago, many people didn’t see the need or want to learn the language. Fast forward to present day, everyone is sending their children to learn Mandarin so they can communicate with the largest population in the world. Coding is a way for humans to communicate with computers.
Everything from your air conditioner to the lock on your door can now be programmed. A lot of every day things are now programmable. It’s so important to learn this life skill!
You recently held an event, Moms Who Code for the first time in Hong Kong that I was lucky enough to join. I loved that you served tea and cake, reminding mamas that learning to code is a piece of cake! What led you to do that and what was the feedback?
We had an amazing, energetic group of mums who joined and the feedback was great! Our inspiration for this workshop stemmed from many conversations we have as a team. We ask ourselves how can we empower our students to have a better learning experience? We believe that the classroom is only the starting point in their learning journey. We want them to continue at home so this is where parents come in.
A lot of parents come to us and ask how they can be more involved in their child’s learning so we thought why don’t we hold a workshop and share what we’re teaching in the classes. Coding can sound very abstract to most people, so instead of sharing a powerpoint presentation, we did a hands on learning experience where all the mums made their own apps. Hopefully coding can be one way parents can help related, communicate and guide their kids in this digital generation.
Will there be other Moms Who Code events coming up? Where can we find the information?
Yes! Since the feedback was really good, we want to keep doing it. We’re in the process of preparing for our next one. Stay tuned!