They’re the Code Monkeys, and they are the future.
Fifteen Bozeman High School students spent their free lunch hour Thursday getting their hands dirty under the hood of the computer revolution.
A half-dozen guys and girls brainstormed about creating a mobile app just for Bozeman High so that students can someday find everything from their grades to prom tickets with the touch of a finger on a smartphone. They plan to submit their proposed app to the Verizon Innovative App Challenge contest, which offers a $10,000 prize to the top 10 school apps nationwide.
At a nearby table, nine guys collectively known as the Code Monkeys were getting a lesson in writing computer code from a former professional software developer — one of three adult volunteers in the classroom.
The Code Monkeys’ goal is to be able to write “mods” or modifications for the game “Minecraft.” The adults’ goal is to expose Bozeman students to the world of computers, software and entrepreneurship.
“This is the future of America,” said Rob Irizarry, a parent and former product management director for RightNow Technologies. “Software is becoming a bigger part of business. … For every one of these kids, software will be some big portion of their life. All of them need to understand where software comes from, how it works.
“We want to help kids see what your future could be like.”
This year, the Code Monkeys are learning for fun. Next school year, they can learn for school credit, when coding will be offered as part of the high school’s Hawk Enterprises business class.
Business teacher Kerri Cobb said the idea started last year when one student came to her, wanting to learn coding. He soon showed up with five friends – who already knew more about coding than the free website she’d found. Irizarry, a member of the school business department’s advisory committee, told her he knew people who’d love to come in once a week to teach students about coding.
Meanwhile, Principal Ken Gibson proposed that students create a Bozeman High app, Cobb said. Students were surveyed and overwhelmingly liked the idea.
“It has snowballed beyond my wildest dreams,” Cobb said. “The kids’ passion drives this forward.”
Building an app is beyond the students’ skill level — it’s the kind of thing that would cost $30,000 or more if done professionally, Irizarry said. But working on the project exposes students to the “lifecycle” of app development.
Senior Harrison Howard said a high school app would be “awesome.” It would be so efficient, he said, to have all the information students need – class assignments, office messages, Hawk TV videos – in one spot.
“We feel a lot of students would use it,” said senior Alia Sobrepena, 17.
Sonia Ait Mansour, 15, an exchange student from France, said learning such computer skills could help students get jobs in the future.
“It starts earlier and earlier,” said volunteer Emmy Chuck, a professional investment adviser. “We want to get students skills in technology, marketing – all different aspects of entrepreneurship.
“These are real impressive kids,” Chuck added. “They have no fear to jump in.”
Kyle Brekke, 14, a freshman, said he’s interested in game design. “I’ve been doing this kind of on my own for years. My understanding is kind of makeshift. This gives me a chance to talk with somebody who knows what they’re doing.”
That somebody is Chris Omland, an Oracle product manager and former software developer, who led the Code Monkeys’ lesson in using Java computer language. Omland said exposure to coding now could give students a head start if they want to work on games or for a company like Oracle.
“I wish somebody had done this when I was in high school,” Omland said.
Principal Gibson said the students’ energy and enthusiasm was “just crazy.”
“This is real-world stuff,” Gibson said. “It creates career opportunities. Little by little, we’re creating great opportunities for kids.”
Gail Schontzler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 582-2633.