How a ‘driveway moment’ with Microsoft’s Brad Smith led to the creation of nonprofit Code.org – GeekWire

Microsoft President Brad Smith. (GeekWire photo / Kevin Lisota)

As 2018’s Computer Science Education Week comes to a close, a key detail has been revealed about the origins of the week’s organizer and now global computer-science advocate, Seattle-based nonprofit Code.org.

It’s what might be called, in the lingo of public radio, a “driveway moment.” Literally.

Brad Smith, Microsoft president and chief legal officer, provided that concrete insight into Code.org’s beginnings at an event held at the University of Washington this week. Noting that 2018 marks Code.org’s fifth anniversary, “it’s an opportunity to step back,” Smith said.

He then mentioned that Code.org founder Hadi Partovi happened to live next door to him.

“At the top of the hill, we share a common driveway,” Smith said. “I can’t even drive into the garage at night if he is standing in the way. Well, actually I can, but running him over is not the right path.”

Five years ago, Smith recalled, Partovi was in his driveway, “and he said, ‘I have an idea. There is an important problem that we can help solve, because for too many people they look at these opportunities in computer science, and they don’t appreciate that in truth anybody can aspire to be the next Melinda Gates or the next Bill Gates or the next Jeff Bezos or the next Sheryl Sandberg or Mark Zuckerberg. What they need, what they deserve, is the opportunity to learn this fundamental field.’”

Smith said it was at that point, what had been just “a twinkle in the eye” of Partovi gelled.

“I agreed together with others that Microsoft would become the first funder and one of the first founders of Code.org,” Smith said of that driveway encounter. “We committed $25 million, we got involved, we connected Code.org with other exciting work that we do, including our own Technology Education and Literacy in Schools program.”

Microsoft continues to support the nonprofit, announcing last Monday it would commit another $10 million to Code.org between now and 2020 for the dual purpose of providing teachers with professional development about the subject, as well as promoting computer-science friendly policies at the state level.

Partovi told GeekWire that Code.org considers one of its signature efforts — organizing this week’s Computer Science Education Week and promoting Hour of Code activities to teachers and students as a way to get started — a success in 2018. The week, which ends Sunday, is timed to coincide with the Dec. 9 birthday of computing pioneer Admiral Grace Murray Hopper.

Partovi says highlights this year included a popular new Minecraft Hour of Code tutorial from Microsoft, and an enthusiastic reception for a Dance Party tutorial from Amazon. “Teachers have been able to get their classrooms to actually dance,” he said, adding a physical fitness aspect to what some might consider a nerdy sedentary activity.

As to the origin story that Smith had shared, Partovi confirmed to GeekWire it was essentially correct. The adjacent homes were a help then, and now. “Certainly being neighbors and friends has just made us natural partners, and there was natural trust between us,” he said.

And the risk of standing in the driveway? “No, he has not even once tried to run me over,” Partovi said.