Leadership

How this 16-year-old is teaching the world to code

Moksh Jawa is the 16-year-old author Decoding AP Computer Science book and online course.
Source: Moksh Jawa
Moksh Jawa is the 16-year-old author Decoding AP Computer Science book and online course.

High school junior Moksh Jawa is only 16 years old, but thousands of people around the world are turning to him to learn a valuable skill: coding.

Jawa, the author of "Decoding AP Computer Science A: For a High Schooler, By a High Schooler," is also the self-taught brains behind a free online computer course that has 4,000 students enrolled.

"Going through the entire experience, I know that if the resources I had used had been paid, I wouldn't have learned computer science," Jawa said. "It's my way of giving back. I've learned so much from the online community. Computer science is such an important skill it should be offered for free."

His 114-lecture online course, rated 4.5 stars by his students, all started because Jawa was willing to persist toward his goal, he said.

Though his parents aren't coders, Jawa latched onto his interest in computers growing up near Silicon Valley, picking up skills from a website called Codecademy in seventh grade. By eighth grade he was developing his first app to help toddlers learn grammar.

As a freshman, Jawa was eager to enroll in his high school's computer science classes — except there weren't any. So he got some books and taught himself, acing the Advanced Placement test with a score of 5 — that would have put him in the top 24 percent of test-takers last year, according to the organization that runs the tests.

Jawa knew he wasn't the only high schooler who had to teach himself: Just 4,300 schools offer AP computer science nationwide, compared to the almost 13,000 that offer U.S. history, and the more than 14,000 that offer English literature and calculus, according to the Conference Board's 2015 data.

"There was a stigma you couldn't learn it on your own, that computer science was hard so you needed a teacher," Jawa said. "I saw that as an opportunity."

The next year, he started a coding club at his high school, and found that while more than 30 students were interested, it was difficult to schedule the sessions around everyone's classes and extracurricular activities.

"These days in high school they expect you to cure cancer and get a perfect SAT and so much more," Jawa said. "Wouldn't it be better if they could do it on their own time?"

Enter Udemy, a start-up that offers one of the largest catalogs of online, on-demand educational courses. The company doesn't usually provide equipment like microphones and software to their instructors, but when Dennis Yang, CEO of Udemy, recognized Jawa's persistence, they offered to help him create the course pro bono.

"He had a tremendous amount of passion and put in a lot of effort," Yang said. "He knocked on a lot of other doors. [We thought], here's a young up-and-coming person, we should do what we can to support him."

A teacher in South Korea reached out and revealed he showed Udemy courses in the classroom, inspiring Jawa to sit down and write his first book. The finished product, which caters not just to the AP test but also real-world applications of the code that is tested, has now sold more than 350 copies, and Jawa's next goal is to get it in more classrooms.

In the meantime, Jawa will balance an internship at MIT, singles tennis and his role as president of California's DECA program, where he helps 5,800 members compete in business plan competitions (he specializes in entrepreneurship challenges). On top of that, he'll be a teaching assistant in a new addition to his school's curriculum: a computer science class.

"I'm not interested in becoming an engineer that just comes to a company 9 to 5," Jawa said. "I think my main piece of advice is when you have an idea or you think there is something in society you can solve, just go do it. Don't worry about your skill set. You never 'learn' computer science, you build it as you go. You have to persist."