One of the Seattle’s areas most successful tech entrepreneurs is launching a new foundation to raise the profile of computer science education at schools across the country.
Hadi Partovi said the foundation he’s starting with his twin brother, Ali, will work to increase computer science literacy by making it part of schools’ curriculum on par with math and science classes.
“My long-term vision or goal is every school in the country should offer the opportunity to learn computer science,” he said.
Partovi said 41 of 50 states don’t count computer science coursework toward high school graduation, and only 2,100 of the nation’s 40,000 high schools offer advanced placement courses in computer science.
At the same time, “the No. 1 job-creating engine in math and sciences is computer science.”
The field has been good to Partovi, 40.
After working at Microsoft in the mid 1990s, he co-founded voice services company Tellme, which was later sold to Microsoft for a reported $800 million. Back at Microsoft, Partovi was general manager of MSN before he left in 2006 to start music service iLike with Ali, who is based in San Francisco. They sold the company to MySpace in 2009.
Hadi Partovi went on to become an early investor to Facebook, Dropbox and other tech ventures.
“I have enough money to live the life I want to live. Investing hasn’t been floating my boat enough,” he said. “For the forseeable future I’m committed to solving this problem.”
Education is “near and dear to my heart,” Partovi said, since his father co-founded Sharif University in Tehran, a top technical school in the Middle East. Later his father became a physics researcher at MIT, bringing the family to the U.S. in 1984 — and at Harvard, where Hadi and Ali studied.
Hadi Partovi paid his way through college teaching computer science to younger classes and more recently taught high school students at a Seattle Center workshop last summer.
The foundation plans to start by developing a database of every school in the country that offers computer programming courses.
Then it will begin a marketing and advocacy campaign aimed at making computer-science literacy a topic of national discussion.
Its profile could be raised in part by a professionally produced video that’s being released next month, featuring luminaries such as Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg discussing the importance of computer science education. It will be distributed to teachers across the country.
Partovi sees expanding computer science education as a way to create opportunity for students and help the country, which is expected to see demand for more than a million new programmers over the next decade. If they receive salaries of $100,000, the economic opportunity is $100 billion a year — “almost double the recent fiscal cliff,” he said.
“This is something I think of as, ‘How do we help a student growing up with a low opportunity life find a way into a high opportunity life?’ But also, ‘How do we solve some of the economic problems in the country without a big fight?’ ”
Partovi said the idea is to spark interest by exposing students to computer science, perhaps through an introduction to programming class that every student takes. Students who get interested in the field may pursue further studies on their own.
“I don’t think we need to pay teachers to teach everything to our kids,” he said. “What we mostly need to do is get teachers and schools to get kids interested.”
The Partovis hope to work with other organizations exploring ways to expand computer science education, including groups working on ways to deliver curriculum via computers and overcome the shortage of qualified teachers.
Also planned are alliances with technology companies that can lend their influence and perhaps financial support to the effort. Partovi said they want to raise more than $10 million.
“What is needed,” he said, “is more of a catalyst for the education system to react to the realities of the world.”