Jefferson Award Winners Hadi and Ali PartoviBy Sharon Chin


SAN RAFAEL (KPIX 5) — Today, one in ten elementary and middle school students are learning how to code, and thousands of instructors are learning how to teach programming, because of twin brothers with a single vision.

Children participating in one of Ali and Hadi Partovi’s workshop think they’re playing video games. They’re amazed to discover they’re actually programming.

“You get to make things with characters,” explained eight-year-old Lucy MacPherson at a recent event in San Rafael.

“I really want to create my own game,” added 9-year-old Ryan Judge.

The students are learning the Hour of Code, an introduction to programming created by the Partovi brothers.

John Pearce of Mill Valley’s GATE program invited kids and their parents to the San Rafael workshop.

“I think Ali and his brother are a national treasure,” Pearce said. “What they’ve done is absolutely wonderful.”

The brothers founded the nonprofit Code.org in 2013. The goal is to get every school to teach computer science.

“Here we are living in Silicon Valley, everything revolves around technology, and then most of our schools don’t teach the basic ABC’s of how it works under the hood!” said Hadi.

Code.org’s message: don’t just play video games, create them. Don’t just use your smart phone, program it. The organization reports that so far, more than 100,000,000 students have completed one Hour of Code, even President Obama at a White House event.

Sixteen states changed graduation policies so that computer science now counts as math and science for high school graduation. The biggest change: in Arkansas, where every school must teach computer science. California recently passed a bill allowing school districts to make their own choice.

As boys growing up in Iran, Hadi and Ali programmed their own video games. The identical twins tell the story together:

“There was Islamic Revolution and totalitarian regime and war broke out,” Hadi remembered.

“I remember being scared,” Ali added.

“Our father brought home a computer, a Commodore 64,” Hadi continued.

Ali picked up the memory: “We lived in a place with no hope and this was a place where we could immerse ourselves in a different world.”

Later, they graduated from Harvard, and each sold his own startup to Microsoft.

Today, Ali is based in the Bay Area; Hadi, in Seattle. The twins, who grew up side-by-side, are still working in tandem, sharing their childhood joy of coding.

“The moment (children) realize they can actually do this…” Hadi began.

“You can totally see that light go off for people,” Ali finished.

“That’s the real joy in the work we do,” Hadi added.

So for introducing millions of students to programming, this week’s Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Hadi and Ali Partovi.

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