The tune of Taylor Swift’s Shake it Off unexpectedly filters through air of the Engineering and Computer Science building at the University of Victoria. Inside a third-floor classroom a group of Grade 5 and 6 students are learning to code.
“We get to program computers and we learn about coding. It’s fun to be able to code,” said Sophie Lobmeier, 10.
“It’s also fun to know more than your parents,” adds Katie Tinis, who celebrated her 10th birthday Aug. 21.
Science Venture Codemakers Camp – powered by Google and Actua – is about inspiring young people from around the world not just to use technology, but to create it. The program creates a fun environment for kids to learn and engage in science, technology, engineering and math at an early age.
The youth hailing from across Greater Victoria used multiple programs through the week, making a cat move across the computer screen, and now their instructors dance to the modified Swift tune with lyrics such as “I just wanna code, code, code.”
“They’re describing the dance moves. They’re giving commands, like they would do on the computer,” explained Laura Bouwman, manager of member services for Actua Canada.
The youth were also joined by Google Canada software engineer and UVic alumnus Nav Jagpal. He currently works to keep the Internet safe with Google Canada. He’s on the Safe Browsing team that develops technology to help identify unsafe websites, warns users and webmasters of malware and phishing, and enables users to protect themselves online.
Jagpal, who grew up in Trail and is now based in Montreal, is happy to be back on the West Coast.
“It’s cool to be on campus and in B.C.,” he said.
From 2001 to 2006 or so he attended and worked at the university. Through the co-op program he started at the help desk and finished his UVic work as a senior technical analyst until applying, and earning, a position with Google more than eight years ago.
Jagpal likens the Science Venture code camp to the exposure he and his coworkers garnered during their youth.
“We were exposed to technology at a very young age, and encouraged to explore creativity,” he said. While nine- and 10-year-olds tend to be top consumers of today’s technology, that might not always mean they’re taught to explore and create utilizing the tech tools now available, Jagpal said.
He came west to work with campers to develop computer science skills through the interactive Code the World dance activity where the campers apply knowledge of basic computer commands and functions using dance choreography and music video production. He remembers that excitement of making something physically move as a youth.
“My goal is coming back and giving what people provided me with,” he said, noting various teachers along the way recognized his capabilities and encouraged him.
He recalls those early days when it was exhilarating to connect two computers. “Now I’m working on a team where the number of machines my code works on is crazy,” he said.
“It’s so exciting to see these kids. I wish I had something like this when I was young,” Jagpal said. “I’m excited to see what these guys will be able to do in the future.”