Patrick Ellis, a graduate of Gig Harbor High School, noticed something when he first started taking computer science classes at the University of Washington.
“Almost every single person (in the class) had a lot more programming experience,” Ellis, a UW sophmore, said. “I realized that nobody else in our high school had that education.”
Ellis, along with some friends, helped found the Gig Harbor Computer Science Club at Gig Harbor High School in September. Ellis visits the club about once a month to act as an adviser.
Club President Jacob Powell said the Wednesday after-school meetings are always focused and lively. The GHCS club isn’t about being computer savvy — it’s about sticking with it and learning basic skills. The club doesn’t seek out the computer-literate only. Powell said that doing basic coding and HTML and CSS has already opened doors for some students.
“A lot of these guys didn’t realize they’d be really into this,” Powell said.
Powell, a junior at Gig Harbor, isn’t pursuing a computer science degree. He wants to go into mechanical engineering. The skills of computer science and code transcend the discipline, he said. The skills tie into all sorts of jobs.
But to figure out the basics, students need a guide, Ellis said. The purpose of the computer science club is to “get (students) in front of the right stuff.”
Right now, the club is working with a free website called codecademy.com. The students have been working with a building block of computer science: HTML and CSS. Powell said the hope is to move on to other languages soon.
As students progress in the club, Ellis and Powell want to create new challenges such as app design. They’d also like to get out in the community with something like a “hackathon.”
It sounds nefarious, but a hackathon is just a time to get together and code. It’s a brief period of intense collaboration. Ellis staged one in Seattle and he and Powell would like to get something like that in the South Sound.
There’s also the hope the club can expand, for example, to Peninsula High School and middle schools. It’s not exclusive to Gig Harbor High School.
“In order to bring computer science to the schools, we really need to get a lot of support from students,” Ellis said.
Powell said this first year has been about building up excitement for the club. There may be a little bribery involved, too. Powell and company have free cans of iced tea for students who bring along a friend.
But if the tea is an incentive, the work is what keeps students coming back. The atmosphere is one of enthusiasm and collaboration.
It’s not just “techies” that are checking out the club.
“We’ve gotten a really broad group of people,” Ellis said. “It’s always amazing to me how many people are into tech.
“It’s a great platform to really show people what computer science is like.”
Learning the basics in high school is a definite advantage for future computer science majors.
“A huge percentage of kids who go into computer science classes don’t have prior exposure,” Ellis said.
It also isn’t about fancy computers. Ellis said the coding isn’t based on hardware. It’s about the software. Students are digital natives. With Ellis lending his knowledge from the college level and website tutorials, the club stays current.
“We’re on the bleeding edge of the knowledge that’s coming about,” Ellis email@example.com Twitter: @gateway_karen.