MGU 276 Srini & Usha Gowrishetty | Young Minds

 

You don’t truly understand a concept if you can’t teach it to a 12-year old kid. It’s important to teach children about coding because these young minds bring fresh solutions to the community. The show’s guests today are Srini & Usha Gowrishetty, the yin-yang couple behind Bitsy Bytesy, an excellent platform for teaching kids to code by developing their problem-solving skills. In this episode, Srini & Usha talk with Jason Wrobel and Whitney Lauritsen about how giving the youth the power of coding opens up multiple entrepreneurial opportunities for them. Join in the conversation to discover how simple coding can be and how anyone can learn it!

Listen to the podcast here:

Diverse Voices In Coding & Young Minds Making A Difference With Srini & Usha Gowrishetty

Behind The Magic Of Technology

This episode feels special to me. I met the two guests that we have with us through a group that I go to with Pat Flynn, who has inspired my podcasting journey and a lot of my work online over many years. I met these two lovely human beings in a group that is done for Southern California residents and I thought they had an amazing story, and input to share that we haven’t touched upon. Before we get into that, I want to know more about who they are as human beings on a more personal level.

On the About page on your website, which is Bitsy Bytesy, you shared some nice details about yourselves, which I like when people include in their About sections and bios a little bit more insight into who somebody is and why they do what they do. You have a great About page. On this About page, there were a few things you shared that I would like to know more about. One is that you said, you are foodies by obsession. I’m curious, what is your favorite food? When you call yourselves a foodie, how do you define what it means to be a foodie? Jason and I are foodies as well.

My wife likes anything spicy.

How spicy? Jason likes spice, too but it’s all relative. There are American spicy but different levels.

Indian spice is a little bit different. Maybe Usha can add more to it. I feel that there is this Mexican spice, which uses different kinds of peppers versus Indian spice use dry chili a lot. We do use the green ones as well but there is more of the red pepper.

Maybe a good measure is when you go to a restaurant and they ask you how spicy you want the food to be, what do you say?

I would personally get 9 or 10.

That’s impressive. I have done this over the years. I suppose most of my work is associated with food and being a professional chef for many years of my career. One of the biggest challenges, when we are preparing food, is we have our own palates. We have our preferences. We have the flavors, the textures, and the things that we enjoy. I have been accused my entire career of making things too spicy for people.

Much like you, Usha, my palate wants complex flavors and a high level of spice. I have had people tell me, “You can’t make it this spicy. You are going to hurt us.” I find it funny, too because I will go and order spicy food and inevitably have people complain about it because then it’s inedible to them. Do you both run into that? I’m curious, I know you have two children, do they share your same love for that level of heat and spice or not?

We have to meet kids where they are and then go from there. Click To Tweet

The older one does. Unfortunately, the younger one is quite opposite.

That could change.

I don’t see it changing because the older one from when he was one-year-old, we would never order anything special for him. When we go to the restaurant, he would always eat off of our plates. The younger one is totally a different story. He craves anything sweet. He wagged in asking if he could eat its ice cream.

That’s interesting because so much of your work, it seems to me, is about understanding what works for somebody. Getting into teaching styles, for example. This ties into what you are saying because not every child, even from the same family, is going to think the same or want the same things. Part of what makes your work interesting is how a lot of school systems or teaching styles, in general, seem to be a one size fits all approach.

It’s like food in the sense that some people don’t like spicy things so you need to adjust versus trying to force somebody to eat the same way as somebody else does. I love that. I know your children are also part of your story. On the About page, I saw that they have been involved with your company and the design of your website, which is neat that you are involving them in this process. Before we get there, I’m also curious, you said that you love music. What type of music do you listen to?

We listen to a lot of Bollywood music and a lot of Western as well, mostly pop stuff. We also like Indian classical music, which is quite different from Western classical. Both my sons go to Indian classical music classes. We have an interest in that as well.

Does that mean that they are playing instruments or singing? What do those classes involve?

Singing for sure. My elder son goes for a while in class as well. This is a Western violin. The violin is used in Indian classical music as well but it is tuned differently. I don’t know much about the technicalities of it. I don’t play any instrument but there is quite a bit of difference. Even though it’s the same instrument, it is played differently.

This is fascinating to me because music is also one of my greatest passions in life. I grew up in the City of Detroit and to this day, there are a lot of world musicians who live in that city. People who are playing Middle Eastern music, Iraqi music and Indian music. It is a wonderful experience to grow up in a musical city like that. Through me playing in bands, I’m a guitar player and a singer, I was exposed to so many other styles of music. Much like food, I’m exposing myself, my mind, palate and ears to many different things.

There's a lot of phobia in kids and adults who think that coding is hard and geeky, but that is not true. Everybody can learn to code. Click To Tweet

My mentor, Michael, who we have mentioned on the show many times, is a life mentor to me, much like a father. He has played the sitar for many years. Every time I go to his house, he has this gorgeous sitar. Interestingly, years ago, being a guitar player and understanding chord progressions, melody and specific Western tunings with the guitar, I thought I could pick up the sitar and do the same things. I learned very quickly that it does not translate the way that I thought. The scales, chord progressions and tunings on a sitar are different from traditional guitar playing.

Someday, along with the oud, which is a Middle Eastern guitar stringed instrument, I have a desire to learn these things. It’s just finding the time to do it. Much like you put your son in music classes, I wish I would have done this in my younger years but it’s okay. If you are passionate about something, you find the time to do it. Someday, I hope to learn and become more proficient at the sitar.

There are people I have heard who know Western classical. When they look at Indian classical music, they are blown away by the complexity it offers. We are not musicians. We only listen. We are connoisseurs of music, not producers of it. We enjoy listening to it.

To get your children involved with that, too, correct me if I’m wrong, when children study music, it’s helpful for their cognitive development. Is that a reason that you have brought them to music classes or is it because of a passion? Did they ask you to take those classes? How did you make that decision?

Originally, we would have appreciated it if we had learned music when we were little. That’s probably the starting point of it other than just enjoying it. We wish we could go back and learn music. We could still do it but it’s way harder than it is for the kids.

It’s almost like learning a language. As children, you pick it up so much faster.

We expose them to different singing and instruments. We were trying out piano and then violin, and they happen to like one over the other.

I want to go look up that instrument because I don’t know much about it off the top of my head. This is so important to also understand the cultural differences, which is realizing when you don’t know enough about something and expanding like you expand your palate to different foods. It’s so important to look at all the different cultural traditions or things that people do differently.

You have inspired me to go listen to some classical Indian music. I have an idea of Bollywood music but not much either. I don’t know if I have ever listened to classical Indian music so thank you for bringing that up. Do you have a favorite, by the way? Where would I start if I wanted to go on Spotify? Is it available on there? Is that where you would listen? Where do you find this music to listen to?

MGU 276 Srini & Usha Gowrishetty | Young Minds

Young Minds: Knowing basic arithmetic basic algebra is more than enough to learn to code.

 

Generally, on YouTube. I will send you some links that would be a good starter.

YouTube is such a great source of music. You can find anything on there and maybe they have some videos of people playing it, which would be nice. Lastly, I saw in your About bio that you love succulent plants. I’m curious about this. Where did that passion come from? Do you both have a passion for it? Is it something that you spend time on as a hobby or do you just have a few of them and enjoy looking at them?

We remodeled our backyard a few years ago and as part of the remodel, we put in a 5×5 foot box with all kinds of succulents in it. I don’t know the names of them. I may know some of them. I love that they are easy to care for. Also, it’s quite different from other plants. All you need is a leaf from the succulent to grow the new plant, which was interesting. I like the patterns. A lot of those have interesting patterns and colors. That’s what attracts me to it. My wife likes it because it’s easy maintenance.

I’m glad that you brought that up because my mother taught me about how you can take just this tiny part of the plant and grow a whole new one. I have two succulents at home that my mother picked when she visited. You are right, she took this tiny little piece, put it in a pot and now it grew to this big plant. I water it once a week and it’s perfectly happy outside in Southern California.

There’s something so nice about that whole experience because someone like me who doesn’t have a green thumb, I don’t feel bad. I’m not going to harm the plant easily. That process of watching something evolve from this tiny little piece, grow and surprise you is like a good metaphor for life or something and it can be meditative to look at.

I have done the same thing here in my garden in Los Angeles, where I have a reputation for not taking the best care of plants like Whitney. I have a great mint plant that is doing well. I have taken fragments and leaves of the many succulents. What started as one, I now have ten in my garden. They are so hardy and they can withstand many conditions here. The extreme heat we get here, of course, in Los Angeles, they can withstand that. Whenever we get floods, they withstand that. I’m also a believer in the power of succulents because it’s the only plant that has survived in my garden thus far. That and mint is all I have.

This can be a good transition into talking about well-being, which I know is something that you are interested in, in terms of childhood development and support, and empowering children. I would love to know more about what inspired you to start the work that you are doing. Perhaps you can start by sharing a little bit more about the work that you do and then tell us how that came to be. How did you start this whole journey of your website and everything that you offer on it?

If you look at somebody who was born in the ‘80s or ‘90s versus somebody who was born ten years ago or so, they are growing up in a different world. They are growing up in a society, which is mostly built by computers and by coders. Coding and computers have transformed how we live, communicate, get entertained, shop, order food and even how we get educated. Most of the classes have moved to Zoom, especially with the pandemic. Code has transformed the way we live.

Unfortunately, kids think that this is all magic. They don’t understand how things work behind the scenes. That’s where we come in. We want to show them how things are made using code, whether it’s a website, an application, a game or any real-world application like Netflix or Zoom application, they are all built by code. Even the podcast we are on, the recording is made possible by a piece of code written by somebody somewhere.

Women bring a different perspective to the table in computer science. Click To Tweet

That’s where we come in. We want to show them behind the scenes and teach them the foundational elements of how to code things and how to put together things. It was an interesting start. A few years ago, one of my friends had two middle schoolers. It was summer and they said, “You guys are coders. Why don’t you teach our kids how to code?”

We have been in the industry working as professional programmers and coders for many years for big companies. We have mentored several engineers on the job but teaching 11-year-old, 12-year-old is a different task, especially when it comes to coding where there are a lot of abstract concepts in it. They don’t feel concrete when you are beginning to learn them. It was a big challenge for us to make them understand these abstract concepts. Doing this for so long, you take things for granted.

I remember the quote from Richard Feynman, who said, “You don’t understand something or anything unless you can explain it to a 5-year-old or maybe a 12-year-old.” We took it upon ourselves, “Do we know these concepts if we cannot teach them?” We had to go back to the basics and find ways to teach them these concepts by making them more relatable, meeting them where they are instead of coming in like a, “I have twenty years of experience. I can teach you this.” That does not work. We have to meet them where they are and go from there.

It has been an interesting and challenging experience. We like the challenging part of it. Coding, especially, is a powerful tool. We can talk more about this. I can give you several examples of young minds who are making a huge difference with code by creating these applications and solving problems for not only themselves but for people around them and the communities at large. This is a powerful tool that they can use to stand out and make a difference for themselves and others as well.

It feels empowering, which is a word I keep coming back to when I hear about the work that you do because it’s such a gift to give the youth this knowledge and the skillset. There’s a lot of concern over the economy and people losing their jobs or not having a great skillset. Something like coding feels like an incredible knowledge to have because technology keeps growing so much. It seems like it’s going to be a job that somebody can have for many years. You can’t say that about everything these days because of how much the job market changes.

If the youth can get interested in this and be met where they are at, they could develop so much passion and also have that job security, which is one of the greatest gifts. I imagine for you being parents that you would want to see your children feel financially secure and also have jobs that they enjoy doing. I’m grateful that you are doing this work. It’s exciting.

As an adult, I’m interested in it because I don’t know much about coding. I know HTML a little bit. I taught myself that. I have been learning about cryptocurrency but I’m confused about some of these things. Cryptocurrency feels like a different language and it has been a good lesson for me because I have to retrain my brain about how I think about things. That reminds me of when I was learning HTML, it was a whole new language but it was empowering when I realized that I could build a website when I was in my teens. At that time, not a lot of people were doing it and still to this day. Many websites have become a drag and drop now.

I’m curious about your feelings about that. I’m sure as developers, it must be interesting seeing how there are a lot of shortcuts being taken. I wonder, are there shortcuts available for people? It’s so hard to understand something like coding. I know from doing websites for maybe fifteen years and not understanding that. A drag-and-drop website is a great shortcut for me because I don’t want to spend all this time doing the HTML. However, there are only so many shortcuts you can take. Do you feel that way with the way technology is at? How do you feel about those types of tools that feel like a shortcut?

You touched on an interesting and important thing with me. If you look at the programming when it all started, it looked way different in the 1940s. Programming was turning knobs, flipping switches, connecting cables and moving boxes. From there, we moved to punch cards where you have to punch real holes on a piece of paper to program things. From there, we moved on to writing in low-level programming languages called assembly languages where it was hard. You have to write these various mnemonics to do a simple task and you have to have a Computer Science degree to do it. You cannot go jump in and write a piece of code.

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From there, we move to text-based programming languages. You may have heard about Python, JavaScript and Java, all of those are text-based languages and they are still around. The addition to that is block-based programming languages. The block-based HTML that you are referring to fits into that box. For kids, especially, Scratch is a visual block-based program that is quite easy to get started with.

There are a lot of phobia in kids, even in adults, where it’s like, “Coding is hard. Coding is for somebody who is geeky, somebody who is good with math,” and all kinds of stereotypical. People have myths about it but that is not true. Anybody can learn to code. We strongly believe that, especially, if kids can learn to code, we can, too. Whitney, you can as well. You can start looking into text-based programming if you want a challenge.

The block-based definitely lowers the bar for entry but they have their own limitations. What we especially teach are text-based programming languages, which is where you go a little deeper into how to communicate with the computer. If the block-based abstract are a lot of things, for you, it makes it too easy sometimes. In that process, you don’t get to see the behind-the-scenes stuff. I don’t know if I’m answering your question or going on a tangent so let me know if that was helpful.

It’s helpful. I’m fascinated by your insight into this. Tangents are always welcome on our show. We do them all the time so feel free. This comes back to my observation of you, I felt fortunate that both my grandfathers were engineers and my dad was interested in computers. When I was growing up in the 1980s, we were seeing the development of the internet. At that time, not everybody had a computer. There was usually one computer per household. It was my dad’s work so as a kid, it felt so special to get to use the computer.

Nowadays, not only will there be multiple computers in households typically but other devices so children may take advantage of it. There’s still that magic that you are talking about. It’s evolved. I was so fortunate to have a father who was not only interested in that technology himself but he wanted me to be part of it. He took me to computer museums when I was little so I’ve got to learn a little bit about the behind-the-scenes. That took me down my journey to doing some things like HTML because I had the confidence and the interest.

Usha, I’m curious if you feel this way. It’s also something that I have found, as a woman, it’s still on the rare side. I don’t know statistically but there’s the movement of women in STEM and STEAM. There’s the growing movement of women getting more involved with technology. I’m curious, Usha, you do have two sons but aside from being a parent, what has your experience been like as a woman working in this field? What led you to pursue that?

Growing up, my dad was an engineer. The scenario back in India is different. Either you become an engineer or a doctor. I’m scared of becoming a doctor so that led me to pick engineering. My fascination for computers and in general technology led me to a degree in Computer Science. When I was working back then, and I’m sure it’s still now, there are so few women in STEM-related jobs. It’s shocking. One of the things we are proud of is we have a lot of girl students who are interested in coding. That’s a good sign that we see with our students. Apart from being a good student, having more girls in STEM-related careers helps make a change. Women can see the problems around that better, which they can solve the real problems around them.

They bring in a different perspective right to the table. Especially if you look at the numbers for women in Computer Science, up until the 1970s or ‘80s, there were more women in Computer Science than men. It is shocking and hard to believe but it is true. Even the word computer itself means a human make doing calculations. The alternate meaning for the computer is a person who does calculations to computations.

Something happened after the 1980s, where there has been a significant drop in women in computer science. NPR has done a show on this. They think that the advertising at that time, especially from Apple and other companies, influenced this. Most of the advertisements showed the computer as a boy toy and it was the most gifted Christmas gift for boys. That changed the perspective of this society that this is a boy thing, not a girl thing. There may be some truth to it.

MGU 276 Srini & Usha Gowrishetty | Young Minds

Young Minds: If you want to build an app or a game, coding is involved in anything you want to do.

 

I remember hearing about this episode a long time ago on NPR that the woman in tech was different up until the 1980s, and then the graph changed ever since. It’s starting to trickle up back with all the STEAM and the STEM programs in the schools, both in high school, middle school and even elementary. Some schools call it STEAM. They add the arts in there. In some colleges, STEM so it’s the same thing. I agree with Whitney. Having different ethnicities at the table bringing different perspectives of looking at a problem and bringing different solutions to the table definitely helps.

I’m curious how both of you having many decades in this industry as coders and going through that process of simplifying things so that you could teach this to children. We are at an interesting point in human history where we are seeing in certain applications and computing power exceeds the intelligence and the predictability models of the human brain. Of course, years ago, we had Deep Blue and chess matches. Once computers started to defeat chess grand champions in their sport, I recall that years ago thinking, “This is a fascinating moment.”

As we continue to see the rise and more mainstream adoption of algorithmic technology and artificial intelligence, do you see a point in our lifetimes where coders will not have as much stake in this because the computers will be writing their own code for themselves? As we look decades into the future, do you see the relationship of coders, algorithms and artificial technology growing together or will eventually the coders fall away and AI will just take off on its own? How do you feel about that?

There are a lot of talk about AI algorithms taking over humanity. We are not experts on artificial intelligence but from what I hear and what I read, we are far away from general intelligence. A lot of artificial intelligence that we see is specialized. A computer can recognize pictures and can probably recognize voices. These are specialized programs that are fine-tuned to do one specific thing but when it comes to general AI, it’s far away into the future. If that happens, who knows? We may have to find another job.

I have something to add. Years back down, we would be washing dishes with our hands, and then now we have dishwashers. It doesn’t mean the machines have taken over our life. They have helped us make better use of human time. Otherwise, maybe we wouldn’t be doing all this coding and computer stuff. We would still be doing dishes, hand washing the clothes and chores around the house. The artificial intelligence, the computers and the code, I see it as though it’s going to improve life.

They are going to supplement and not replace completely. They will help us find time to invest in higher-order things. That’s probably where we will end up.

It seems that there’s a growing trend with AI, Jason. I have noticed in the social media and marketing world that there are a lot of artificial intelligence tools being developed. It’s designed to save us time but they are not quite there yet. I don’t enjoy a lot of those tools. They sometimes feel like a waste of time because they are not the way that a human would do something. In a way, that’s a relief. The same thing can be said of a dishwasher. Sometimes I use the dishwasher and there’s still stuff stuck on the food and I have to manually wash it off. It might waste water and electricity, whereas doing it by hand might be better.

I’m glad that you brought that up because that goes back to something I was saying earlier about how children are growing up in this different time with technology. I would love to know more of your thoughts on that, especially as parents and people that have been working in programming for so long, you have seen many shifts happening. I’m curious, what is it like having young children and also having children as students?

What you are seeing in terms of how they are using technology and how that’s helping them in their lives? Is it getting in the way of their lives? I’m curious because that’s a concern. There are a lot of discussions around like, “Our children are spending too much time in front of screens.” How do you feel about that as parents and as teachers?

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Most of our classes are online and one of the objections we keep hearing is, “I don’t want another online class.” With coding, it is a necessary evil. Not everything that you spend time on screen is screen time, especially when you are learning to code, it is brain time. That’s when you are using your creativity and thinking skills. You are building your persistence. Computers are precise machines unless your code is precise that the program will not work. They help build up patience, persistence, logical thinking and all of these.

If there is a balance, both kids and parents, especially if they can make sure that kids are getting enough sun time as well as the screen time, then it’s a win-win for everyone. Most of the things that kids are learning are online these days and you cannot avoid it. That’s what we try to do at home. Usha is much better than me doing these with kids. She has screen times on the iPads and the phones they use. Even kids themselves know, “I have 30 minutes. What should I do with these 30 minutes?” They are trained.

They do fifteen minutes or maybe a chess game and fifteen minutes of probably some other games. They know how to manage time. They are empowered to use that 30 minutes or 45 minutes as they choose to. We try to always find the right balance where they get to enjoy things and at the same time, spending time away from screens.

I’m curious in terms of the conversation around ethics and technology if that’s something that, Srini and Usha, you think about on a personal level and if that ever comes up, either in the decades of your career, in the work that you’ve done as coders and programmers and also with your students. When we talk about ethics and technology, we see a lot of information coming out around social media, specifically and social media apps.

These programs’ algorithms are designed to capture human attention, especially young people’s attention, for as long as possible. They design the aspects of the applications to hone in on specific areas of our brain chemistry, like our dopamine and our reward systems. I’m curious if ethics and technology are something that you have conversations about and how you feel about being programmers and coders having a sense of ethical responsibility in what you design in the world.

This is definitely a concern. There was a documentary on the impact of social media, especially on kids. I forgot the name of the documentary. Somebody from Facebook came out and spoke about the kinds of things they do to pull you into their system and keep you in their system for the longest time. It is a concern when big companies are purely catering to the shareholders, not to the users of the technology. This is where you include these diverse voices when you are coding and groups of people in whatever you design.

Maybe children should be involved as well, not just adults. They should maybe have a voice in designing these applications that are catering to kids especially. I think about it a lot and we talk about it a lot. Some of the biases that are already plugged into these algorithms may hurt us more than they help us. It is a concern. Given that we have a capitalistic economy, it is hard to fight that.

First of all, do your kids have social media accounts or social media profiles?

They do not.

The biases plugged into algorithms may hurt us more than help us. Click To Tweet

Really? I have met some parents that have young children that already have Instagram profiles. I didn’t want to assume that’s why I asked. That’s interesting. Do you anticipate that at some point, they will come to you and ask permission to have profiles?

We would not want to think about it but I’m sure that it is approaching. If we could, we would probably push it away. That’s another reason why as much as possible, the children need to know that something is going on. We are amazed by my younger son’s technology usage skills. He goes and searches for Legos and then tells us the price. When he is watching YouTube, he knows that there is an ad coming up. Knowing how these algorithms work and how they are all interrelated instead of just thinking it like it’s all magic, that they know that somebody is tracking them. Knowing the inner details also helps them make the right decisions.

It goes back to the power of their input on your work. One issue that I have noticed a lot comes back to your point about meeting people where they are at. I have been working in marketing for a while and I study all the different ways that people communicate what they do. A lot of people struggle with clarity and with helping other people utilize what they are offering. I’m sure you do, too because you have online services so this must be a consideration for you.

Part of what happens is if we remain too much with our blinders on or in a bubble, we forget that people don’t think the same way that we do and that they don’t live the same way. With children, you are pointing out how they can be intelligent and sometimes understand things that we don’t realize they understand at young ages.

Parenting seems to be evolving to treat children with more respect for their intelligence, which is wonderful. It seems like older parenting styles were much about creating boundaries between the adults and the children as if they were completely different, forgetting that children can understand complex things but also utilizing that knowledge and awareness as you did.

You talked about this on your About page how your younger son clicked around on your website, which could help with your website design. You could watch how his brain was processing information, which is enlightening for any age because sometimes, children don’t have the filters that adults do. They will just be honest about, whether they like something or not and how easy it is.

If a five-year-old can understand something, now you can reach more people versus making something so advanced. Thinking back about my childhood, I was never diagnosed with a learning disability but I struggled a lot and I still do as an adult. I struggle with certain types of information and when I was in school, it was frustrating to me when I didn’t understand something. It was frustrating to me when I would get a bad grade because I couldn’t learn it, memorize it or understand it quickly enough.

Looking back, I wish that there had been more support for me as a child because that can get in the way of your confidence. It’s amazing that you are witnessing this with your own children, their intelligence and you are meeting them where they are at so that can lead to them feeling more confident, less shame and more empowered. You are also incorporating that into your teaching style, which is incredible. Giving people that power and also removing the barriers to allow for more diversity in culture, gender, ethnicity, race and all these other things that are so important. We still have a long way to go in terms of making that type of progress.

Especially coding. I can give you an example of a teen, Emma Yang, who lives on the East Coast. Her grandma has Alzheimer’s, which is a brain disorder. They lose their mental faculties gradually, fail to recognize friends and families and forget the names of the people or the family members. Sometimes they don’t even know where they are. She created an app for her grandma. She lives overseas and when her grandma does FaceTime or video call with the family, the application recognizes the names of the family members and shows their name below the person’s head. That brings the grandma into the context.

MGU 276 Srini & Usha Gowrishetty | Young Minds

Young Minds: Playing video games, especially collaborative games, helps build kids’ brains as long as it’s done in a safe environment.

 

A lot of people with Alzheimer’s tend to forget what they have done 5 minutes or 10 minutes ago. A symptom of that is they try to call people over and over again, forgetting the fact that they already called them. The app reminds the grandmother, “You have called this person five minutes ago. Do you want to call her or him again?” Using code, she was able to express a solution for her problem that could help her grandma and their family as well. She took that app to a wider audience and now, she is the founder and CEO of a company.

This is the power of coding where you can start with an idea that may be helpful to you but you can take it up to the wider audience and build a company around it. There are so many young entrepreneurs and problem-solvers out there that are using code to create solutions to everyday problems. There is a kid in India who saw potholes on the road and he created an app, which detects the potholes on the road. If you take a picture of the road, it detects the potholes, labels them and sends a picture to the municipal corporation, which is great. He is empowered to inform the city that there is a road that needs repair.

Kids all around the world are using this wonderful tool to not just see the problems but see the solutions and build the solutions for these problems that they are seeing on a day-to-day basis. Anybody who is hesitant to learn to code thinks that it is a foundational skill that we should all have. If anybody has time, then you should look into learning to code.

How amazing because it’s a gift to the world, individuals and their families. Incredibly, you are offering these training. I imagine going back to this conversation around how tough it is to be a parent with technology changing and a lot of parents are concerned about its impact on children. If the children enjoy being on devices, why not allow them to learn and then do something that’s helping the whole world through their problem-solving skills and their natural inclination to use technology?

As a parent, it would be such a source of pride. I can tell you for sure that my dad was always proud of my work with technology and that was something my grandfathers were also passionate about so it got passed down. If I had children, that would be so exciting to see them develop things like this that make a big difference. Maybe children would have a completely different relationship with technology, where they not only understand what’s going on and how it’s impacting them on a personal level but they can feel like they are using it as a force for good.

That’s a great phrase, a force for good. That’s awesome.

One of the barriers that I remember as a child to learning to code is I have a lot of assumptions about it. The primary assumption that I had about learning code, I remember specifically having to learn different commands, not necessarily code. I remember some of the first experiences I had with a computer in our household was having a Commodore 64, and then we had an Apple II and then an Apple IIe. I remember using as a child these floppy disks and having to use certain commands. I remember the first PC we had, the early versions of MS-DOS.

In school, when I had the opportunity to learn to code, I automatically had perhaps a misguided assumption that I had to be good at Math and I was not necessarily good at Math. I didn’t do well in Math. In school, I excelled more in writing, English, Art, Music and things like that. I’m wondering, Srini and Usha, is that a barrier that you hear or a misconception that you have heard over the years? Are people assuming they have to be good at Math or other studies to be able to handle coding? What misconceptions have you heard, and which ones might be true and which ones are not true?

Math is a popular one. Unless you are going into coding, which deals with lots of scientific computations, you don’t need Math more than middle school Math. I have been coding for more than twenty years and Usha has been coding for more than fifteen years, and we barely go beyond middle school Math. If you can do basic arithmetic and basic algebra, that is more than enough to learn to code so it should not be a barrier at all.

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We had a student who doesn’t like Math but he loves coding. He is good with coding. What ended up happening was after he took our course, he showed more interest in Math. We have some elements of Math in coding and now he sees the value of learning more Math and how it fits in. It made it more tangible for him instead of just learning it for the sake of it. Now he knows where he can use it. He has a purpose and the context around it. He flipped going from hating Math to now he wants to pursue more Math stuff. We hear this a lot but you don’t have to be a Math genius to learn to code.

The other myth is that a lot of people think that programming and coding is a solitary endeavor, where somebody is sitting in their basement and coding away all night. Some people do that. I have done that before and Usha has done that before as well. There is so much collaboration that goes into putting a product together. If you look at Google, Microsoft or Apple, these companies hire hundreds and thousands of people. Each of those companies has more than 200,000 people as employees. They all collaborate and work together to bring the products that we all use on a day-to-day basis. Coding is far from doing one guy sitting somewhere kind of thing.

There is a huge community out there, both online and offline, that you can reach out, collaborate and work with to create what you have in your mind. These are the two things we keep hearing a lot. The screen time, if you find the balance, learning to code definitely will help not just the adults but kids, not only in their profession. They can take it up as a profession. Even if they don’t become coders, the coding intersects with so many domains. Even the movie industry uses coding. NASA uses coding. If you want to automate a thing, build an app, build a game, anything you want to do, coding intersects with all of those. It’s a good tool to have in your toolkit.

My oldest son introduced this to us. There is a Chrome Music Lab where you could create music. That was a cool thing for the kids. If we let them, they would spend hours on it. This is where music intersects with coding. Coders, just themselves, would not be able to create something like this. I’m sure some musicians are involved in this. That’s something cool to check out for the kids and adults. You could create your own music, compose it and then play it.

That reminds me of something one of my friends told me about. Her son is about 9 or 10. There’s a popular gaming platform, maybe you will know the name if I describe it, where you go in and there’s a whole universe of games that you can play. Some people are making their own games. Do you know what I’m talking about?

Are you referring to Roblox?

Yes. I have never used it but it’s popular. Is your older son using that? What do you think of it? I heard it’s good but it’s not fully regulated or something so the child may come across some dangerous things. Is that true? I know my friend was feeling concerned about it because she wasn’t sure if it was a good place for him to spend his time.

Two platforms are popular. Roblox is one and there’s Fortnite where you can play with some random guy online. Our kids are younger so they haven’t explored this yet. From what I hear from my friends, what they do is when they want to play online, they pair up with the people they already know as friends and families, kids they know from their school or with kids they already know. That’s one way to keep them within the boundaries of safety and still have them enjoy the game they like.

We have to be vigilant about anything online. There are a lot of bad things out there, especially concerning kids. If we have a safe boundary around it, kids can definitely explore these options. We are okay if our kids want to explore these platforms. I would encourage them because playing video games, especially these collaborative games helps build their brains. We are not opposed to any of that as long as it’s done in a safe environment.

MGU 276 Srini & Usha Gowrishetty | Young Minds

Young Minds: Code.org is one of the best places to start exploring.

 

This is something that piqued my curiosity when I read a book by Manoush Zomorodi. She writes about the importance of boredom. Her book is called Bored and Brilliant. Have you heard of her work?

No.

It’s a great book that is mostly targeted for adults to embrace boredom because sometimes if we spend too much time trying to entertain ourselves and avoid boredom, we stifle our creativity, brilliance and intelligence. The book outlines the importance of boredom and all of its different elements.

She also talks about Jane McGonigal, who has done so much work around video games and how video games can be supportive of mental health and important for childhood development. In the book, Bored and Brilliant, it’s discussed how so many parents have this desire to encourage their children to play less video games. However, that might be counterintuitive because the child may seek out video games to further mental health. If they associate limitations, it’s more damaging for them because it’s an important outlet.

Jane McGonigal’s work is centered around how video games can be used positively. A lot of what you are describing here is, there’s a big opportunity for more games to be developed around empowerment and intelligence, and about how screen time isn’t always a bad thing. If it’s used properly, it can contribute to a lot of positivity. That’s one of the biggest takeaways that I have from the work that you are doing and what you are discovering.

That’s important so I want to thank you for talking about this. Jason and I are not parents but some of our readers are parents and a lot of our friends are parents. I’m constantly observing the struggles that parents go through in this time of technology. Hearing about the work that you are doing makes me hopeful and excited about technology. It’s also inspiring me because I think, “Maybe I want to take one of your courses.” Are your courses designed for all ages? Are they specifically for children? Are you open to having adults take them, too? What if someone like me is interested in taking them that’s not a kid and doesn’t have children?

You are more than welcome to join the course. Most of our courses are designed for middle schoolers, ages 11 to 14-ish. We have some entry-level high schoolers take it, too. The reason we do it for them is that to understand text-based coding, you have to be at a certain age mentally. That’s why even in schools, they don’t introduce algebra until you are twelve years of age.

They don’t introduce it at 5 or 6. Same thing with coding where we expect a basic understanding of things. Kids of age eleven and up have their prefrontal cortex formed. They can reason and think through things better. That’s why we have an age range there, primarily former middle schoolers. Adults haven’t asked us to teach this yet. If somebody shows interest, definitely yes.

You never know. You might get me and Jason as students because clearly, it’s beneficial and also interesting. Just to observe is neat. You have inspired me to learn some new things, better understand them and also be more supportive of them. A few years ago, I participated in a workshop that was designed to support women in STEAM because they were incorporating the art element of it. It opened my eyes to the statistics for women and how important it is to have all different types of people regardless of gender, background or age even.

The other big takeaway here is even if it’s not something that I pursue personally or professionally, it’s something that I can do to support others, encourage them and have those resources. Thank you for sharing this all. I’m so grateful to have your website as a resource. I’m curious, are there any other resources that you wanted to mention? Are there any books on this topic, podcasts or websites that you enjoy where other people could follow to continue learning more about coding and programming?

Yes, especially for kids and even for adults. Code.org is one of the best places to start exploring things. If you are in the UK, CodeClub.org is one of the best resources out there. That is generally what we recommend as a starting point for most kids and adults. You can find things for all different kinds of age groups there and you can take your path. They have set paths for different age groups so you can explore those options.

Thank you. Thanks for being here and discussing this. It was fascinating to me and wonderful getting to know you each more so thanks for taking the time!

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About Srini & Usha Gowrishetty

MGU 276 Srini & Usha Gowrishetty | Young MindsThere’s a lot of phobia in kids and adults who think that coding is hard and geeky, but that’s not true. Everybody can learn to code! We are Usha and Srini, the yin-yang couple behind Bitsy Bytesy. We live in San Diego, California, with our two boys. Bitsy Bytesy is an online platform that helps kids build their confidence, improve their problem-solving skills and learn to make a difference in the community with code.

 

 

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