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Developing Developers

What is Dev Dev? And what is the Public Education Foundation doing in this world of learning to code?

Developing Developers launched as the Summer of Code in 2013, at the Chattanooga Public Library. In truth, it actually began as a single class, on learning the programming language Python, but there were so many students interested, the original organizer - Engage 3D, a non-profit primarily focused on bleeding-edge technologies - decided to stretch that class into a month-long coding experience for local middle and high school students.

Engage 3D, almost by accident, discovered two important things about Chattanooga: (1) Students from across the city, of all ages and with a wide range of experience, were interested in computer science, programming and careers in technology, and (2) there were, at least in 2013, limited opportunities for students to engage with those areas, at least on a city- or county-wide scale. This is not to say great work wasn’t being done - the LEGO robotics league lead by TVA is one awesome example - just that the Gig City wanted more.

Fast-forward a year, and Dev Dev: Summer of Code doubled in size - this time working with both the library and the Howard School, with AIR Labs’ Seun Erinle and Jill (Pala) Pieritz, a programmer-turned-teacher at GPS, leading a second camp for a group of young women. The library’s own group doubled in size; they also built in more interaction with the city’s growing entrepreneurial sector, bringing in guest instructors and visiting the places (Bellhops, Society of Work, the Lamp Post Group, just to name a few) this next generation of Chattanoogans could work.

This second summer brought it’s own lesson - in developing the programming capacity for young coders, Chattanooga needed more than just additional opportunities for learning. While we have found that every student who has participated in the Summer of Code ended up with a new or increased interest in becoming a developer or working with technology, there were still a huge gaps in digital skills and experiences with technology preventing many youths in our community from taking advantage of the growing learn-to-code ecosystem. Access wasn’t enough on its own, and it certainly wasn’t equity; the digital divide had reared its ugly head.

So many of the technologists we work with talk about experimenting, tinkering in their free time - about growing up with videogames or having a computer in their home - as what lead them to pursuing their educations and careers. How could Dev Dev make sure that every student in Hamilton County could have some of those experiences? Not necessarily develop 43,500 developers, but at least make sure that every student had sufficient exposure, and a strong foundation, to succeed in the 21st century.

And this is where PEF comes in: With partners like Benwood, the Hamilton County Department of Education, Mozilla and Tech Goes Home, we re-launched Dev Dev as a digital literacy initiative designed to complement the work happening outside of school (like through ChaTech and Unum’s summer camps, in AIR Labs’ classes and at TechTown’s camps) by building more capacity during the school day - integrating technology and coding into other subjects, as well as offering standalone courses in computer science.

Dev Dev: Summer of Code is still going strong, with its fourth graduating class this year - we’ve kept it’s focus recruiting from communities traditionally underrepresented in the tech sector. We’re working with HCDE to expand digital literacy and computer science programming K-12. And we’re excited about everything our partnerships with organizations like AIR Labs, CO.LAB and the Edney will do to build a pipeline for homegrown talent here in the Gig City.

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