The 16 year old coder, Part 1: Why My Daughter No Longer Attends Public High School

This is the first in what I intend to be a series of blogs about getting my daughter into the programming industry.

Read Part 2 here.

These last 12 months have been a strange adventure for myself, my wife, and our 16 year old daughter Katya.

Last year I kind of coerced my daughter into taking a Web Design class at her high school. That was her sophomore year. She was rather reluctant, but still agreed. I didn’t put too much pressure on her, but enough that she probably would have chosen a different elective without my influence. Shortly into that class, she used what she learned to customize her Tumbler page, and fell in love with programming. After a few months we found out about a program that our school district runs where she could spend half her day in a full on web development class. She decided to apply and was accepted for her Junior year (this year)

In this program, they bussed her from her school out to a district building for half the day, then bussed her back. I was extremely excited. I will say it’s a very progressive program. The classroom even looks pretty silicon valley-ish, with nice new monitors and as many couches as chairs. She loved the program, and was really excited to be part of it.

Then during the summer I went to That Conference where I was speaking on Angular, and I was mentioning to my daughter how people would love to hear her speak about coding. Being young and female she had a very unique perspective, and a great opportunity to influence others who would relate to her more than they would to an “old man” like myself. That Conference is a really great conference, and even runs a family track which has technology sessions for kids. While looking at the schedule, Katya suddenly asked me if she could give a presentation next year. I replied “I don’t know, let’s go ask”. So we tracked down Clark Sell, who is the head organizer for That Conference, and she asked if she could give a session in the family track on getting kids, especially girls, interested in coding. His reply was “You’re on. You have a year to prepare”.

That fall I started teaching 1 day a month at the local web development immersion bootcamp: Dev Mountain. I spoke briefly with my wife about a desire to put my daughter through one of these bootcamps. Maybe right after graduation, or even during the summer between her Junior and Senior year. Or even crazier, take her out of class for 3 months and do it.

Then two major events happened.

First, while choosing talks for ng-conf we were looking for some unique and diverse talks, and so I suggested to Katya that she submit a talk on teaching Angular to kids. I had been teaching her Angular over the last month or so and thought that some of the things we had been doing together were pretty interesting. The response was overwhelmingly positive and she was accepted to speak.

Second, Pluralsight needed someone to help them out with their hour of code initiative, and since they knew about my daughter’s experience with coding, they asked me and her to teach the hour of code at several events, one of which was at the Utah State Capital Building, with the Governor in attendance. Those events went well, and Katya was amazing. Here’s a picture of her teaching the Governor of Utah to code.


That experience radically changed my opinion about my daughter’s future. All of a sudden I was frustrated that she was stuck wasting her time in high school taking yet another history class, when she could be doing what she wanted to do with her life and spending all day learning skills that will help her in her chosen career. Don’t get me wrong, I love history and think it’s a great subject. But she already knows history better than I do because she actually likes it. In fact she’s already well rounded, is good socially, has a great command of the English language, writes well, etc. So is what she’s getting right now in high school worth keeping her from doing something she’s passionate about?

This was December 11th. By December 22nd, we had finagled Dev Mountain to add one more student to their January class, pulled Katya out of school, had her quit her job, and jump started her on the path to becoming a programmer.

She will still have to finish high school, but we’ll do that using an online high school.

In the end, I felt like public high school just wasn’t serving her best interests anymore, and it was time to do something radical on her behalf, and at 16, she just didn’t belong there anymore.

36 responses

  1. Wow Joe, bold move. I’m looking forward to hearing her speak. I have a 2 year old that I’m hoping to bring up in coding just as much as my wife and I bring her up in music and art. Maybe your daughter could provide inspiration for girls like mine one day! 😀 Best of luck to Katya!

  2. you would be better off taking your daughter out of school to teach her welding. programming is well on its way to become the next generation’s mcJob. every aspect of the programming industry with the exception of the highest tiers of deep learning is concentrating around well known utility infrastructure like AWS…go look at AWS lambda, this is the future of coding – all the hard parts taken care of by your utility partner, you fill in the blanks…you have to ask yourself if there is a lifetime career here…

    i see what you are doing as the equivalent of someone in 1974 dropping out of school to become an assembly line worker at Ford. its been lucrative, it looks good, your dad likes it….but its only a decade or so away from massive commoditization and automation

    • well said… I think any “technical production” knowledge rather than just “technical consumer” is good, but the rate of commodity technical is on a massive crushing arc. I’ve been in the business for 20 years. it isn’t what it once was…

    • Who do you think writes the code that runs the utilities? :) There’s way more than a lifetime’s worth of hard problems left to solve here.

    • junk science, I’m not sure if you’re joking but I’ll provide some thoughts and stats.

      Software engineers will no more go away than any other type of engineer. We have more software to write now than ever before. We have apps for desktop, web, mobile, and now things like watches, refrigerators and washing machines.

      Making a programming language that takes out all the hard parts is a sci-fi dream that has been around for over 50 years. It’s not going to happen.

      The US Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates a growth in the number of software developer jobs to be 22% between 2012 and 2022: . They list median pay at $90k per year–that doesn’t sound like a McJob.

  3. I don’t know if what you’re doing is good or bad. To me forcing your daughter learn more about coding than getting a well rounded education seems detrimental. On the other hand I think it’s all segmented and watered down because a lot of kids don’t know what they want to do.

  4. Thank you for sharing this Joe!

    We just had our first child (a girl) and I’d love to hear about your daughter’s experiences.

    Super psyched to hear her at ng-conf, and hope to get a chance to meet you both!

  5. Bold indeed. As important it is to get a good jump start in her professional life, don’t let it eclipse personal life. All work and no play makes jane a dull girl. Very exciting and I wish her the beat of luck!

  6. Statistics show that female programmers change careers at a much higher rate than male programmers, due to poor career opportunities for women in the tech industry. Even if she knows what she wants to do now and sticks with it for the next five years, she might very well regret not having other options fifteen or twenty years down the road when she realizes her career has stalled out because she doesn’t laugh along with her team’s sexual jokes or her manager’s harassment, her company’s CEO thinks women can’t commit themselves to the company the same way men do, and she can’t even go form her own startup because investors “don’t like the way women think”.

    Of course, it’s possible things could improve dramatically over the next five years, and there’s always a chance she’ll be lucky enough to work for companies that treat women fairly and don’t discriminate against her because of her gender. However, as the father of a daughter, it’s your duty to be aware of the issues and dangers that women face, and realize that because of her gender, she faces threats you never did and may be denied opportunities that she should have been able to earn based on her skills. Enjoying programming doesn’t necessarily mean she’ll enjoy a programming career, and even if she goes on to become an awesome programmer who can code circles around her teammates, she might find them getting promoted over her solely because of her gender. There’s also the harassment, sexual and otherwise, that many women in the tech industry have faced.

    • Every part of this was not only her choice, but driven by her. Many times we added difficult conditions that she had to meet first before we would take action. For example, to get me to enroll her in the bootcamp, she had to complete about 40 hours of preparation study during her 2 week Christmas break while working part time.

      We just presented the opportunities to her and let her make the decision. (with the exception of the initial web design class. I didn’t force her, but strongly encouraged her)

      • At 16 you do not know what you are doing. Come to think of it, at 25 I did not know what I was doing. But at 16, you might think you know what’s best more than anyone else, you know everything in the world.

        I would have discouraged the “change on education method”, and instead presented her with the advantage of learning more in-depth coding (I am assuming you are good enough to teach it) while continuing her high school–and college–education.

        I have a child to which I have told, since very early age, about his future profession:

        – Work on what you love. That way it isn’t work, it is joy.
        – Choose wisely your profession, so your work supports you and family the best.
        – Choose a profession in demand enough, so you can move wherever you want.

        Having a degree is a must, not only for the knowledge it might bring, but because it is required almost anywhere you go.

  7. We complain about not having enough women in tech and the lack of quality in our education system then a concerned parent takes action and is shamed for it? She’s 16, not 4. Having Katya be a proficient developer before she’s 20 only opens up doors for her to make rational decisions about where she wants to take her career later on, when she’s still very young and has her whole life ahead of her. This isn’t closing any doors, only opening up amazing ones in the future.

  8. Interesting story, I look forward to seeing how it develops. My partner, who is 29, graduated high school early and entered the software industry around the age of 15 (I forget his exact age). He wasn’t a programmer at first, but soon became one, and now he’s one of the cleverest men I know, and one of the best developers (that may be bias, but being a software engineer myself, I hope I can speak with some authority). He did not have the support you daughter has; no talks at conferences, no programming parents. He managed to teach himself everything.

    He does wish he’d been able to take some college level math courses, and while it gets a bad rap for being “useless” history and literature actually are important. But those, again, can be decently self taught through books and online lectures and such.

  9. I would be wary of unintended consequences here. Thousands of interactions that take place in school prepare us for challenges later in life by exposing our minds to a variety of situations. A great part of being a software engineer is the innate ability to see patterns where none seemingly exist and to be creative. A well-rounded education and childhood can only serve for the better.

    Should your daughter find another calling in life, why should she be compelled to do so after investing her teenage years into one?

  10. Dude, if she wants to be a programmer, you’d better give her a proper cs education, like ms or phd degree from mit/stanford. Programming doesn’t end in being a web code monkey :) And IMO there is too much attention to her *not really special* abilities, I don’t think it will be good for her in the future.

    • I don’t really understand this comment. Are you trolling? And what does “not really special” abilities mean?

    • Do you have any idea how many people with degrees in CS don’t actually know how to write code? Theory is great, but if you can’t put it into practice, it’s worthless. A college will also teach you outdated technology, especially at the rate at which it is progressing at the moment. If you like Java, C++ and Microsoft tech, then by all means get a masters in CS.

  11. I strongly disagree with what you are doing. I understand that you like what you are doing, but everyone needs a well-rounded education.

    At 16, no one really knows much about anything. She needs to have a rounded educational background to make decisions that will affect the rest of her life. You are depriving her of this if you take her out of high school.

    What will she do for a formal CS education? Anyone can learn how to program without any kind of education at a university, but it is near impossible to learn computer science without a formal education. I believe that most people need a formal education (working on problem sets, problem solving with algorithm paradigms, formally learn about NP-completeness) to do any kind of real software engineering, very few can do it by themselves without guidance. Beyond that, there is incredible value to going to university in learning about different engineering fields beyond just computer science. While it might change in the future, getting a high school diploma online is still very restricting if she wants to go to a university.

    At UC Berkeley, we are required to take both electrical engineering and computer science, and I can tell you that learning about electrical engineering really expanded my view of the world beyond the CS box that I was previously in before Berkeley.

    What you are doing is beyond cruel and you need to reverse the course of action ASAP.

    • She is getting a high school diploma, so there is your well-rounded education. As for a degree in CS, do you have any idea how many interviews I’ve been to where they mention that they have had many applicants who have a CS degree but can’t actually write the code? Just because you have a degree in CS doesn’t mean you have the skills. You may have the knowledge, but not the skill to do execute it. If she wants to add to her ability to write code and reason, then she can, by all means, get a CS degree. I’m sure she is smart enough to look into that for herself. I doubt a degree from an online high school (a GED is a GED) with good grades, good test scores, and years of professional experience would make it hard to get into a good college. Not to mention college is just creating a society of not skilled enough debtors.

  12. Cool idea in theory, but wow– I don’t think it’s good. English, Math, Science, Foreign Language, Art, HISTORY— all these subjects are tremendously important! I love coding too but you can’t send a young lady out into the world without having read important novels, knowing high level math, biology, chemistry, the basics of art history, at least one foreign language etc. If you knew everything about coding and nothing else, you wouldn’t be a very well rounded person. You’d probably be pretty lost in the world. Core subjects will enrich her life/MIND and there’s no reason a person of 16 needs to choose a career path. You have to dabble awhile and get to know yourself, grow up a little, have FUN— then after you’re informed, choose a career.

    • We know that pulling me out of high school at 16 is a big thing, my dad was the hesitant one about the whole thing, I was egging him on to take me out of high school and put me in DevMountain. I understand concerns about me not knowing my history, math, science, etc., but /I/ know that I’m ready for this.
      Already having a college reading level and a great writing ability, if I do say so myself,
      As for “not knowing much about anything” at 16, that’s a lie. I know quite a bit about the world around me and love learning. History especially. Writing, reading books that challenge me, reading articles about new advances in science(like scientist completely erasing all traces of HIV from a human cell!! How cool is that?), I love it!
      Yes, being pulled out of school makes it harder for me to interact with my peers, but my friends and family support me in my decision so I hardly mind. And yes, being in a class with all adults is weird as all get out, but it’s an amazing learning experience that not many people have. And I am so excited c:
      (Ps, Dad, this is so embarrassing that you’ve written an article about me. You dork.)

  13. I wish your story made clearer whether this decision was you-driven or her-driven. The language all sounds terribly you-driven.

    (“I was frustrated that she was stuck wasting her time”)
    (“we pulled Katya out of school”)
    (“we had her quit her job”)
    (“I felt like public high school just wasn’t serving her best interests anymore”)
    (“do something radical on her behalf”)

    Because if it’s her-driven, then awesome, and good for you for supporting her. If it’s you-driven, then it seems almost *controlling*, and then I don’t feel so good about it.

  14. Great to see more unschooling mentality show up in the tech world.

    I left school after 4th grade. I taught myself all about computers, and I’ve been working in the industry now for 20 years — starting when I was 13!

  15. I’m French, I have a 15 year old daughters who just wants to do art (photography/drawing).
    She’s good at school but she doesn’t like it
    But in France, you can’t escape to school before having your “baccalauréat (French secondary school diploma) .
    All art schools ask for this “baccalauréat”. That’s a shame.
    And the most ridiculous is they don’t care if you have done mathematics, economics or literature speciality. You just need that stupid diploma.
    I’m happy for your daughters and I’m sure she’s doing the right move!

  16. Welcome to the wonderful world of unschooling. Here’s something that might help the commenters get a grip on a different kind of reality.

    PS: A study of the assumptions underlying what is being said, and under what circumstances they might no longer be valid and yet the person continues following them unconsciously, might be a good topic to explore.

  17. Congrats to you and your daughter. She sounds amazing, and she is so fortunate to have parents willing to give her these opportunities in spite of the flack you will receive for it.

    FWIW, I’ve homeschooled my kids since 1996, and I’ve heard all the same objections and misconceptions over and over again. Don’t sweat it – you’ve had the courage to do something different than the norm, and in spite of the fact that our culture supposedly celebrates choice and diversity, it’s obvious that certain deviations are met with derision.

    In my experience, young people can know exactly what they want and pursue it with diligence, intelligence, and grace. It’s the traditional school dynamic, IMO, that results in extended adolescence – 30 is the new 18. And that’s not what I wanted for my kids.

    So kudos to you and your family, and enjoy the journey!

  18. I learned about this post from Javascript Jabber and thought it was super interesting. I hope more parents learn from your experience and follow your example to challenge the status quo. In my high school there were a lot of students that attended the local community college part time and even earned their associate’s by the time they graduated high school. Many students are ready to move on well before the established timeframe. The current generation of young people tend to change their career several times in their lifetimes so I think it is great to start exploring passions as early as possible.

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