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UCode was founded in 2012 by Scott Mueller, a computer science graduate from the University of California at Santa Barbara. His initial foray into education occurred when his son, Ken, was 4 years old. Scott felt an enormous obligation to ensure his son was stimulating all areas of his mind in order to maximize the window of opportunity when a child’s brain is still growing. So he taught Ken typical subjects like math and english. However, math was different. Whereas it was difficult for Ken to read advanced books due their vocabulary, jokes, sarcasm, idioms and general requirement for life experience, math had no limits.

For 45 minutes every single day, Scott taught Ken math for 2 years. Ken learned addition, subtraction and multiplication all the way to calculus by the time he was 6 years old (see video). Then an odd situation occurred. Ken was very eager to progress further, but wouldn’t sit down and do the work necessary. When Ken’s parents told him to take a break from math for a while, Ken adamantly refused. So a compromise was made. Scott suggested to Ken to simply pause math while he taught Ken something new, computer science. The promise was that Ken would apply the math he learned to cool projects involving 3d graphics, games, virtual reality, apps and even online businesses. Ken would presumably fall in love with math again and then they could unpause his math learning. Ken accepted the deal.

Even though Scott has a background in computer science, it was difficult to find good curriculum for a 6 year old boy. One of the books he bought was Learn to Program by Chris Pine. It was magical. Scott quickly realized that Ken attained the same level of intellectual exercise with programming as he did with long calculus proofs. At one point, Ken went over a page in this book with his father. He got to a section with the following code:
i_am_chris = true
i_am_purple = false
i_like_beer = true
i_eat_rocks = false
puts (i_am_chris and i_like_beer)
puts (i_like_beer and i_eat_rocks)
puts (i_am_purple and i_like_beer)

Yes, the author frequently mentions his love of beer in the best book Scott found for kids. It was on that last line that a light bulb went on in Scott’s head. Ken got to it and said aloud, “i_am_purple is false, so the whole thing will be false.” His father replied, “but you didn’t even look at the right side of the ‘and’.” Ken responded, “I don’t have to, the computer is smart enough to not look there if the left side is false because then it doesn’t matter what the right side is. The whole thing will always be false.” Scott later recounted, “I realized at that moment the tremendous value of every kid learning how to code. It’s not only the best nourishment you can feed your mind, but the skills you gain cause you to be more clever, think better, solve real-world problems better and truly understand the capabilities and underpinnings of software.

Scott was convinced he could apply the same techniques used to propel his son through math to effectively teach computer science to kids of any skill level. So he stopped his previous business and devoted all his time for this newfound passion. Fortunately it worked. Within months, young kids were programming complex command line applications and creating games with OpenGL. A few more months later, kids of all ages were creating sophisticated websites with back-ends programmed with Ruby on Rails. A few kids were creating their own 3d graphics rendering engine from scratch!
Today, thousands of kids have come through UCode’s programs and camps. They are continuing to learn academically rigorous material and eating it up because they are deeply engaged. Engagement is the key to true learning which software development affords better than any other discipline. We’re a place students go to dive deep into learning.