What's up with the apps?

A group of Richmond teens are finding out during Coding Summer Camp at McNair secondary in Richmond

If you’re feeling a little long in the tooth or short on the savvy when it comes to computers, don’t worry. The next generation of geniuses is getting the lowdown on their downloads next week in Richmond.

That’s because self-described computer geek (he means that in a good way) Roland Tecson will be in the district, teaching computer programming language – or as the kids say, coding. 

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From July 10-14, Tecson, 49, will be sharing his 30-plus years of industry experience in technology and telecommunications with more than a dozen teens during a Coding Summer Camp being held at McNair Secondary.

What exactly is coding?

It’s the creation of an app or a program on a computer, such as an iPhone or iPad, Tecson explained, things that are used everywhere, every day. The apps are written in code.

Tecson, who grew up in Richmond and is a McNair grad himself, wrote his first computer program in 1980 on the first batch of Apple II computers the Richmond School District had purchased. 

At the time, the district touted its acquisition in an article published in the now defunct Richmond Review, titled: Microcomputers are with us.

“The fascination and involvement of youngsters playing with and learning from microcomputers is often in contrast to the bewilderment and nervousness shown by many adults when first encountering these new electronic wonders,” the story stated.

The more things change…

Clearly, being fluent in computer-speak isn’t a flash in the pan. In fact, according to the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Council, Canada will need more than 200,000 ICT jobs by 2020.

That’s why in 2016, the B.C. Education Ministry released a new kindergarten-to-Grade 12 curriculum focused on design and coding competencies. Last month, the federal government announced a $50-million program for youth to learn coding and other digital skills.

But only a fraction of the positions will be filled, as not many students seek out computer programming careers, said Tecson.

“Kids enjoy using computers, but a very small percentage of them go into coding,” he said.

Tecson believes there are two main challenges: a lack of qualified teachers and insufficient exposure to youth.

Tecson said forming new partnerships between schools, industry professionals and local corporate sponsors would help address the gap, as well as showing students and parents that coding isn’t boring, nerdy or open only to “male geeks.”

Nothing could be farther from the truth, said Tecson, who noted ICT jobs also require artists, designers and other creative types, as well as project managers and marketers.

“I learned the BASIC programming language by going through the manuals after school with Mr. Glen Bussey, my Grade 7 teacher at Walter Lee Elementary,” said Tecson. “He instilled in me a love for building software and launched me into a fulfilling career in technology.”

After three decades in the industry, Tecson is proficient in several computer languages, has developed critical telecom systems still deployed in international networks today, and has coded numerous iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, Apple Watch apps, with some supporting more than 270,000 daily transactions.

Tecson said he’s now come full circle to teach the next generation of students in the Coding Summer Camp through the district’s Continuing Education program, and hopes to expose kids – and their parents – to the vocational possibilities.

The camp will show participants how to code using Apple’s newest programming language, Swift – a powerful modern programming language used by a growing number of professional developers. Students will learn coding fundamentals and will write their own apps, such as an Angry Bird lookalike game and an AI (artificial intelligence) conversation app.

Grace Tsang, a former Richmond school trustee, is excited to see Tecson on board.

“Partnerships between educators and industry professionals are an excellent way for school districts to keep up with the rapid advances in technology,” she said. “The schools are able to supplement their programs with help from developers who have practical hands-on industry experience, while the industry ensures the future work force will have the necessary coding skills for 21st-century jobs.”

The Review was bang on 37 years ago: “It is clear that this technology will be a central fact of life and a fundamental social force in the future.”

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