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12.12.13

I Took The One ‘Hour Of Code’ Challenge

President Obama wants you to learn to code. Well, okay. How hard can that be? We take the ‘Hour of Code’ challenge to find out.

It only takes one hour.

That’s the premise of “Hour of Code,” a weeklong campaign launched this week with the goal of getting kids across the country to try their hands at computer coding.

It’s a push that has been embraced by President Barack Obama. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates have offered their advice. And companies including Apple and Microsoft are opening their doors to get more of us average joes dabbling in the language of the web.

“No one’s born a computer scientist,” President Obama says in one online video released with the campaign. “But with a little hard work — and some math and science — just about anyone can become one.”

But coding, a difficult process which involves learning a new language—one built for computers—ain’t easy. Can one hour of code really start someone who’s never written a line of HTML down the path towards creating the next Facebook?

To find out, we asked staffers at The Daily Beast who would like to volunteer and take the challenge. We were searching for someone who hasn’t tried to code before; someone who wasn’t a native of the tech scene, and who didn’t have a tech startup brewing on the side.

We found our volunteer in the very brave Jane Frye.

What follows is a diary of her hour of coding—and insight into whether this nationwide push might pay off for America’s ever-expanding technology industry in its hunt for more coders in talent pool. - Brian Ries

My Hour of Code

I’m nervous yet excited.

I feel like I’m taking a University of Phoenix class and Mark Zuckerberg is the Prof. I mean hey – if someone like Zuckerberg can code, so can I right? Right?! Suddenly the conspiracy theorist inside me has a thought: could this be a trick to get me to sign up for Obamacare, and boost enrollment numbers?! More importantly: Is signing up for Obamacare as tough as learning to code?

But I digress.

Coding is just like the game Angry Birds, the online tool’s introduction says.

Well that seems easy enough. But the simple puzzles we start off with have me skeptical.

Coworkers walk by and accuse me of playing games on the job. No, I swear, it’s all in the name of investigative journalism!

I’m flying through each round thrown at me.

Things are going well.

Then: A pep talk from Zuckerberg and I’m ready for Phase II. So far, so good.

But the exercises are getting tougher and my brain is starting to break a sweat. I make it through unscathed but get cocky in the next round and have to repeat a few of the puzzles to get them right.

Phase IV brings on the addition of ‘if/then’ statements. My guard goes up. I smell math coming on. But on my screen Bill Gates sits cross-legged in a burnt orange Land’s End half-zip and assures me I will do alright. Here’s an if-then statement for you, Mr. Gates: If you studied words in college like I did, then you are probably bad at math. But I’m in it for the long haul and want to see this thing to the end so no turning back. I think. As I listen to Gates go on to explain all the conveniences coding has to offer it makes me realize I should have used this coding business back in math class to do my homework FOR me.

Ok. Video party’s over and I bravely begin my foray into the next round of challenges. The ante has been upped and now things are getting kind of fun. I’m doing pretty well and start to envision a life in Silicon Valley as a Master Coder. Man, I’ll miss New York pizza. At this point I have to admit the tutorial does quite a fantastic job of breaking everything down into layman’s terms, and well, easy games, which I can’t complain about.

I’ve now completed the final stage with flying colors (although, somehow I don’t think my friend Zuckerberg Angry-Birded his way to the creation of Facebook so I know I have a lot left to learn). I take a breather, grab some water and eagerly anticipate the final video segment congratulating me on my hard work and offering me a lucrative position at a small start-up on the west coast. But a glitch has the video stuck in permaload mode and my patience is running thin after that strenuous hour of “math”. Could this be the final exam? Am I supposed to code my way through the final video to get it to play? Have the critics been too hard on healthcare.gov if even these guys can’t get it right??

I have no choice but to return to my journalism roots and dig up the video on YouTube instead. Clearly a master coder I am not just yet. But I’m off to a good start and looking forward to Angry-Birding my way through the next 19 courses offered. If not only Zuckerberg but I, too, can do it so can you.

Trust me.

Give it a try yourself at code.org