How a 16-Year-Old Gets Other Kids Excited About Coding

16-year-old Ian Michael Brock is on a mission to get kids excited about coding. (Image credit: Sterling L. Gilmore)

When Ian Michael Brock was 8 years old, he didn’t have any interest in coding. 

“I only cared about playing video games, going to hang out with friends at recess, and also playing basketball and sports,” he says. 

His parents showed him a video about the importance of teaching the topic in school, featuring some prominent voices, but Brock was bored at first and unimpressed with what the likes of Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg said in the video. 

“I couldn't relate to them,” he says. “I knew their names, but I didn't even know what they did.” 

Then he heard NBA star Chris Bosh talking about his personal experiences with coding as well as its importance. Brock’s feelings about the topic were instantly reprogrammed. 

“Hearing that from somebody that, number one looked like me, number two played my favorite sport and is someone I can relate to, that's what really made the difference,” he says. 

With the help of his parents, Brock founded Dream Hustle Code, a computer science and coding education program, specifically geared towards kids from diverse backgrounds. Today, Brock, now 16, homeschools and devotes his free time to teaching kids to code, particularly kids of color. His organization hosts a variety of programs, including various competitions in which students learn about computer science and compete as they get better at coding. 

Brock is also becoming well-known for his efforts. He’s been featured on NPR and CBS This Evening, and he has more than 24,000 Instagram followers. Dream Hustle Code’s sponsors include Mcdonald’s and Microsoft. And Brock’s passion for basketball and gaming came together when he moderated a recent Microsoft-sponsored event in conjunction with the release of Space Jam: A New Legacy that featured athletes and gamers and was aimed at inspiring a new generation of innovators. 

Brock’s primary focus remains inspiring others who look like him to get involved in the world of coding. While working with students, he’s learned there are some key ways to foster an interest in coding. 

Build a Relationship  

In his coding classes, one of Brock’s first goals is to let students know he cares about them as people. “Sometimes it's not about the actual lesson, it is the way the lesson is being taught,” he says. “Even if you just have like a two-minute conversation about asking how their day is, that is going to get a kid all in because they now think, ‘Oh, this teacher actually wants me to succeed.’”  

Connect Gaming to Coding  

“Gaming is another huge component in the computer science and coding industry,” Brock says. “The gaming industry is huge, it’s actually bigger than the music and movie industry combined. One in three people on Earth, they are either gamers themselves or watch people play video games.” 

Helping students understand the connection between coding and games can get them excited about programming. “What you have to do is explain that that favorite video game they love, there are developers that update the game every single day to improve it and make it even better,” Brock says. “And there are actually a lot of kids who love the idea of creating their own video game because every kid has an idea for making either a game better or creating their own game.” 

Make Clear The Opportunity 

Pursuing a career in the gaming industry is not all about tech skills and it’s important to convey that to students. “You don't even necessarily have to be the best computer programmer, you could be a graphic designer, you could be a project manager, there's so many different aspects of building a game,” Brock says. “And if you explain to them how that passion that you have for playing video games, could actually turn into a lucrative job opportunity down the line, it does get kids engaged on a deeper level.”  

Employ Project-Based Learning  

Once you’ve sparked student interest in computer science, having students do textbook-style exercises can be the quickest way to extinguish that interest. Instead, Brock advises having students work toward a project of their choosing. 

“If you have a kid, you teach them the basics of what they need to learn, and then challenge them with a project, it's not only going to force them to apply the skills that they learn, but is giving them the freedom to say, ‘Hey, I get to use my creativity and build this amazing thing,’” he says. 

Representation Matters  

As Brock knows from personal experience, it can also help to have a pro-coding message come from people who look like the students you are trying to reach. “One of our biggest models is ‘See it, be it,’” Brock says. “If you can see somebody who either looks like you or who you can relate to? That's what's going to get your attention, because that's how it worked for me.’” 

Erik Ofgang

Erik Ofgang is a Tech & Learning contributor. A journalist, author and educator, his work has appeared in The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Smithsonian, The Atlantic, and Associated Press. He currently teaches at Western Connecticut State University’s MFA program. While a staff writer at Connecticut Magazine he won a Society of Professional Journalism Award for his education reporting. He is interested in how humans learn and how technology can make that more effective.