The founder and chief executive of Code.org, who was born in Iran, says computer science is a “foundational skill,” one that future doctors, lawyers and politicians should all possess.
Credit: Matt Edge for The New York Times
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At the center of the debate are organizations like Code.org, a nonprofit group that advocates computer science training and provides coding curriculum for schools around the country.
Founded by Hadi Partovi, an Iranian immigrant who had an enormously successful career in the technology industry, Code.org is backed by companies including Google, Facebook and Microsoft.
Mr. Partovi grew up in Iran during the revolution, moving to the United States when he was 11. He attended Harvard, then joined Microsoft, where he worked on Internet Explorer during the browser wars.
After leaving Microsoft he founded Tellme Networks, which was acquired by Microsoft for $800 million. He is also an angel investor, and was an early backer of Facebook, Dropbox and Airbnb.
Mr. Partovi’s relatives are similarly precocious. His twin brother, Ali, also founded a company that was sold to Microsoft. And his cousins include Dara Khosrowshahi, the chief executive of Uber, as well as senior executives at Intel, Google and Allen & Company, the influential investment bank.
This interview, which was condensed and edited for clarity, was conducted in San Francisco.
What was your childhood like?
When I was 7 and the country was going through a revolution and war, I don’t remember thinking, “Oh my god, I’m suffering hardship.” I had no context. I just was like, “O.K. This sucks. But I can just go on with the day.” I got used to seeing people getting killed and waking up every morning to go to the roof to see which houses near us were still standing or not. Thinking about it now, I’m like, “God, that’s horrible.” Back then, that was just routine.
What did your parents do?
Part of the challenge for me living in Iran was that my entire family, other than my mom and dad and brother, basically had left and fled the country, and we stayed behind. The reason we stayed behind was that my father had started the technology university there, and he said, “The country’s going through all this challenge, but if the education system falls apart, who knows what’s going to happen?”
When did you get interested in technology?
My dad started teaching us on a programmable calculator when my brother and I were 8 years old. And then the next year, he brought a Commodore 64 home. In Iran at the time, there was nothing fun to do. There was no Xbox, no PlayStation, no internet. We had one TV channel; it was all propaganda. There were no sports in school. So for us, this computer was an escape from just a horrid life situation. It was really the only good thing we had in our life.
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David Gelles writes the Corner Office column and other features for The New York Times’s Sunday Business section, To learn more about him and his work, please click here.
To learn more about him and his work, please click here.