By Governor Mary Fallin
April is science and technology month in Oklahoma. What a great time to highlight the emerging computer science scene that is shaping our economy and driving our future.
Colleges, universities and technology centers across the state offer classes and postsecondary degree programs in computer science; software development is part of the curriculum. Students who graduate with computer science postsecondary degrees and credentials are ready to join the workforce and shape our future with innovative software. Degrees in programming, coding and computer science skills are in high demand by Oklahoma’s businesses. Numerous high-paying jobs are available throughout the state.
In addition to formal software education, there are flourishing grassroots efforts to grow the coding community across Oklahoma. One of the most impactful is the vibrant community of coders nurtured by an Oklahoma City and Tulsa not-for-profit foundation known as Techlahoma.
Founded by the husband-and-wife team of Jesse and Amanda Harlin along with Ryan Hoegg, Techlahoma says its goal is to help Oklahomans become workforce ready by creating free training each week. It provides meeting space for user groups and boasts an online community of more than 500.
With accommodations provided by StarSpace46 in Oklahoma City and 36° North in Tulsa, Techlahoma is home to at least two dozen coding user groups that regularly meet in its space. Groups hosted by Techlahoma include Code for OKC, Code for Tulsa, Nerdy Girls OKC Code Club, OKC Python and OKC.js, one of several java-focused groups that meet there.
Both StarSpace46 and 36° North are community-focused co-working and collaboration spaces that serve as startup incubators.
Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg recently invited two other governors and me to take part in the Girls Who Code 2017 Female Governors’ Summit at Facebook’s headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif. I was able to speak to our state’s thriving initiatives to connect Oklahoma children in the K-12 age group with computer science education and all things STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).
For instance, the Tulsa Regional STEM Alliance is part of a drive to promote STEM and computer science to young people through activities, such as coding camps and professional education for teachers in conjunction with the Oklahoma Engineering Foundation.
Project Lead the Way, a national not-for-profit entity, has developed a comprehensive computer science educational program targeting students at all grade levels through high school. It offers a “Launch” module for K-5, two new courses embedded in its middle school Gateway curriculum, and a high school course for App developers as well as one for “innovators and makers.”
“We have a pretty comprehensive opportunity for K through 12 students,” said Robin Schott, Project Lead the Way’s Oklahoma-based vice president for the west-central region. “Our curriculum is problem-solving based, so students are solving real-world problems through our content, and it is very engaging to them.”
Why is all this important?
Consider the type of employees that Oklahoma’s tech-focused companies are seeking. They are all hiring computer-coding professionals. And that includes our long-established oil and gas community.
“Technology is intertwined with the future of our economy,” said Dustin Curzon, executive director of Tulsa’s 36° North. “For our economy to thrive, we need to invest in the current and future generations to create more tech careers — not just coders but knowledge workers who can integrate technology into their professions.”
I am committed to ensure this growth continues across the state. Through Oklahoma Works, resources are being committed to make sure our students are prepared to meet the demands of the new economy. My support for Oklahoma’s entrepreneurial community stands as a testament to Oklahoma’s dedication to growing and diversifying our economy. The future of computer science, in its many forms, is bright, and Oklahoma will likely remain an emerging center for growth in this industry.