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Teaching the Next Generation of Nerds to Rule the World

IMG_4301[1] I wish I could turn back the clock and tell my own children why it’s cool to be a programmer. They don’t see programming as a ticket to the universe, except when it comes to spending our hard-earned money for the newest Xbox system, which, I have yet to point out, comes about because somebody programmed it. And to spend so much time on Facebook, which, funny enough, somebody programmed. I was the same type of kid back in the day, shunning all things tech as way too geeky even for the geek.

And then life happened. I started devouring tech so as not to be outdone by guy friends who spoke exclusively tech. Eventually, I went from burning out Pentium chips to network administration and then programmer…much, much later than the current batch of Silicon Valley millionaires who learned to dream in 1s and 0s as gaming youths on the prowl.

Which brings me to Gene Luen Yang, whom I discovered while browsing English-language books at Eastwind Books & Arts in San Francisco’s North Beach. His American Born Chinese – a.k.a. ABC, the bane of my existence, the label attached by my parents’ generation to mine, the Twinkies and the group left to stew in their parents’ blistering American Dream expectation-here was a fellow Asian creating art out of that same background, despite being really good at something else. As an adult, he took the respectable route of becoming a high school computer science teacher while pursuing art on the side. At SDCC15, I had the opportunity to interview him about his recent work as writer on Avatar: The Last Airbender (graphic novels) and DC’s Superman comics. Such a cool guy–a made man in comics, he can focus exclusively on art now that he’s hung up his teaching hat. Or has he?

Secret Coders, Yang’s latest, is scheduled for release on September 29. Think of it as a fun way to get kids thinking about programming concepts. His protagonists, Eni and Hopper, are students at Stately Academy who band together to solve the mystery of robotic birds and secret passageways hidden away behind Stately’s padlocked doors. We learn about binary numbers and simple programming commands that Eni and Hopper encounter on their journey, and it’s all told in cheery dialogue accompanied by cartoony black, white and green-inked panels by Mike Holmes. Although set in middle school, Yang’s story could easily appeal to a younger set, so catchy, readable and smartly put together for its subliminal intent. And it proves that comics, in the hands of the right teacher, can be just as effective an educational medium as a traditional classroom.

I didn’t learn assembly language until I was a junior in college. Thanks to Yang, there is no reason to keep kids in the dark until then.

First Second, $9.99 Trade Paperback, ISBN: 978-1-62672-075-6, http://amzn.to/1LbWTiS

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