Montana Code Girls to expand into Code Kids

By Martin Kidston

Bringing the state’s brain trust home to work emerged as a campaign slogan during the recent race for governor. One growing Montana tech firm has turned that slogan into reality.

Looking to expand its growing youth initiative, the Big Sky Code Academy has coaxed Billings native Megan Jung back to the state from Portland to launch its new Montana Code Kids initiative.

Jung, a Montana native, arrived back in the state over the weekend. Once unpacked, she’ll set out to expand the state’s tech base by teaching coding skills at a young age.

“The statistics suggest that 25 percent of the tech field is female, and that’s not enough in my opinion,” Jung said Monday. “The more diverse opinions you can bring to the table, the better that field is going to become and the more advances are going to be made.”

Since its launch in April, the Big Sky Code Academy has led several coding boot camps for adults. This past summer, it expanded with Montana Code Girls – an after-school programming course designed to encourage young women to pursue a technology career.

Devin Holmes, founder of Big Sky Code Academy, said the Montana Code Girls program will expand in June, becoming Montana Code Kids.

“What we realized with conversations from parents, feedback and mail, is there’s a need for after-school coding programs, not only for girls but also for boys,” Holmes said. “One of (Jung’s) core responsibilities will be to lead the transition of Montana Code Girls through this academic year to an expansion next June.”

Since Montana Code Girls was launched, requests for the program have arrived from Turner to Wolf Point. Holmes believes the program could see 400 students register next year once it expands to boys.

“It’s not good enough to just focus in on adults after they graduate high school or college,” said Holmes. “If we’re truly going to build a high-tech economy and industry in Montana, we have to start with 10-year-old kids and take a 20-year view on how you do it.”

Earlier this year, the College Board noted that not a single Montana student took the Advanced Placement exam for computer science. In 2014, just 105 students graduated from a Montana college or university with a computer science degree.

Holmes believes such statistics hold dire implications for the state’s future and its ability to compete in technically focused industries. The Big Sky Code Academy looks to change that by targeting students at a younger age and by helping teachers bring computer science into the classroom.

“For us, it’s a holistic view of how we create more exposure and educate more Montanans in computer science and coding,” Holmes said. “Over the next six to 12 months, we’re going to hire a full-time person to run our K-12 program through our partnership with Code.org. By 2020, we’ll have trained 500 K-12 educators.”

Originally from Billings, Jung graduated from St. Catherine University in St. Paul, Minnesota. Her career has taken her to Bozeman and Oregon, where she completed her master’s degree at Oregon State University before going to work for the University of Portland.

Jung said she’ll begin networking with school districts and communities across the state to help Montana Code Kids gain traction.

“I was looking for an opportunity to come home to Montana and serve my community again,” said Jung. “I believe we’re talking about starting programs in Frenchtown and Hamilton. There’s a lot of interest around the Missoula area.”

Contact reporter Martin Kidston at info@missoulacurrent.com