Founder and ringleader, Microsoft Philanthropies TEALS
Employees: 10; 1,450 volunteers
Kevin Wang, founder of TEALS, recently spoke at Maker Faire Milwaukee at State Fair Park in West Allis. The Maker Faire is a venue for engineers, artists, scientists and creators to show off their experiments, hobbies and inventions to an audience of all ages. TEALS (Technology Education and Literacy in Schools) is a Microsoft Philanthropies initiative that aims to add computer science to the curriculum at all high schools in the U.S. It launched in Wisconsin last year, and is now in 34 schools across the state. While he was in town, Wang sat down with BizTimes managing editor Molly Dill to discuss his work.
Why did you establish TEALS and what was your grand vision?
“I was a former high school computer science teacher … and after graduate school I ended up at Microsoft as a software engineer. I realized that even in Seattle, a lot of schools didn’t have computer science. But with all of these new jobs and the digital economy, it’s really important for three reasons that we have computer science. One is citizenship. We don’t need everyone to be doctors or physicists, but when you participate in civic society and … you’re going to vote on some of these issues, it’s important they know all of the foundational knowledge you have to know behind (technology). Whatever job you end up having in the future and even now, computational thinking is going to be a required part of that. And the last thing is technology companies want to move computer science forward and we need software engineers to do that.”
Why was Wisconsin chosen as an early adopter state for TEALS?
“I think this is a great place to be. I think it’s an example of the Midwest. We’re in quite a few other places where there is technology and just that community spirit. We particularly came to Milwaukee because as we were starting to build things up in the Fox Valley, (Milwaukee County Executive) Chris Abele heard about it and goes… ‘If you’re going to be up there in Green Bay, you want to come down here, too.’ Him and the chamber, MMAC, are our partners down here, very much like how we landed in Cleveland.”
As technology has become so ubiquitous and so crucial to our daily lives, why has the skillset to create that technology not kept pace?
“There’s just a lot of things going on. Technology’s going so much further, and computer science is a very young subject. Up until the 70s, computer science was really in a lot of math departments, if they ever had anything like that.”
Has it been difficult to scale a program like this nationwide at the quality level you want?
“You obviously can’t drop software engineers in a classroom with a teacher and just say, ‘go.’ We provide the classroom, we provide the training for everybody and they can effectively team teach. The two other things that have enabled us to scale, one is the overwhelming support from the tech community. (And) companies like Kohl’s… they’re the No. 1 company that volunteers with us. A sizeable percentage of their sales is online now. So as Kohl’s evolves, I think people will see 20 years ago you see technology as a cost center, it’s a cost of doing business, but now people are seeing it as a competitive advantage to doing business.”
You’re about 10 years in on TEALS. What are your goals for the next 10 years?
“The latest code.org survey on percentage of schools that have computer science is about 33 percent. One goal is we want to make sure that every school offers it and the other one is in terms of AP, we want to make sure AP computer science matches all the STEM APs.”