ALBUQUERQUE — If you mean to get a 21st-century kid excited, you need to talk about dinosaurs, super heroes or robotics, right?
Not necessarily, says Charles Ashley III: Computers and coding now seem to be enough.
“Every adult said no kid will give up eight weeks (in the summer),” Ashley said.
They were wrong; he’s had phenomenal participation in his Cultivating Coders camps being held throughout the Southwest.
Cultivating Coders has completed 12 coding camps all throughout New Mexico and parts of California. In less than three years, 137 people have completed the camp.
Ashley, former head coach for Bosque School boys basketball, intends to bring Cultivating Coders to Sandoval County, including the pueblos and Bernalillo High School, in the near future. The camps are free, and materials and computers are provided.
“We think Bernalillo and Rio Rancho are primed for this,” he said. “We welcome anyone to reach out — our entire state needs this.
Ashley, who obtained a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Adams State University in Alamosa, Colo., said his best lesson in college came when he learned time management.
In addition to having served as an assistant basketball coach at Albuquerque High, Ashley spent time as a consultant and learned about philanthropy, which later led to successfully finding partners to help subsidize what became Cultivating Coders: “Money to help these kids get a skill that is relevant,” is how he describes it.
Each Cultivating Coders session has a different “funder”; Ashley said those money-providers are firms like Best Buy, an Episcopalian church that provided a venue and almost everything needed for a camp, AT&T and PNM.
Earlier this month, Facebook and Cultivating Coders, of which Ashley is the president, announced a partnership that will support summer coding camps in Albuquerque’s South Valley and Los Lunas. The trainings will contribute to Facebook’s pledge to train 1 million people and small-business owners across the U.S. by 2020.
Cultivating Coders, the Albuquerque-based coding camp, is providing an intensive eight-week training workshop for up to 26 middle and high school students this summer. They will learn introductory coding skills employers in the current market seek, including development, programming and web build-out.
In 2016, at a tech conference in Austin, Cultivating Coders was named the “Tech Startup of the Year.”
“It was our first time pitching it,” he said. “The judges loved it.”
“I wanted to create a camp that is affordable ...,” Ashley said. “We call (laptops) the vehicle to success.”
Cultivating Coders is filling significant economic development gaps in New Mexico by identifying barriers to training and employment for youth and young adults, training youth of color in technology skills and keeping high-paying jobs in the state. The program will be available for students in rural, tribal and inner-city areas where resources are not currently accessible for this type of training.
Last month, when Cultivating Coders participated in Facebook’s train-the-trainer sessions at the Albuquerque stop of Facebook Community Boost, community organizations learned not only how to equip their teams to run their own workshops, but also how to scale delivery of digital marketing and social media curriculum so their communities would continue to benefit from this training long after the event.
“The best way to close the digital-skills gap and help people across the U.S. find jobs and grow businesses is to provide access and opportunity to trainings at the community level,” said Vance Bishop, Los Lunas Data Center site manager for Facebook. “We’re proud to support Cultivating Coders’ summer bootcamps for the students of Albuquerque and Los Lunas this summer and beyond.”
Ashley, originally from Chicago, where life was tough, and then educated in middle school and high school in Las Vegas, is thankful a teacher “saw something in me” and out him on a track to success.
“I’ve never been a true techie,” he said. “I was a terrible student (in Chicago). I was intimidated by math.”
Although math no longer mystifies him, he’s still old-school when it comes to today’s technology: He’d rather have a phone conversation than texting or emailing.
“I like talking to people,” he said. “Technology should just be a tool.”