Students Gather in US, Abroad to Learn
‘Universal Language’ of Coding
January 9, 2017
As a handful of students gathered to learn a
new language at the Microsoft store in New
York City, a different set of students
gathered a world away in Nigeria to embark
on a similar journey.
The language in both cases is coding, and
Microsoft executives are making it a global
“Coding is a universal language,” said Dona
Sarkar, principal product manager at
Microsoft. “Coding is the language of
Code can be taught to the young
Every online website and mobile application
is coded using various programming
languages, such as Java or C++, the basic
principles of which can be taught to someone
as young as 4 years old.
The students in New York were getting their
first crack at coding by using the popular
“Minecraft” video game as a framework.
By stringing together virtual blocks of
built-in code for basic commands such as
“move forward” and “turn left,” they could
program and then watch their characters
“It’s very rare that a new literacy comes
along in our lifetime,” Sarkar said. “It
absolutely can be democratized.”
Free workshops, tutorials, efforts abroad
To that end, Microsoft has partnered with
nonprofit Code.org to offer free in-store
workshops and online tutorials.
The company is also building on efforts
abroad, providing 25 aspiring entrepreneurs
in Lagos, Nigeria, with computer hardware,
along with technical and business training
to get their startup ideas up and running.
Sarkar spearheaded the new initiative in
Nigeria as part of Microsoft’s Windows
Insiders Program. Entrepreneurs take part in
a six-month fellowship, starting this month,
which ideally will culminate by June in a
viable product or service with paying
“People are a lot more motivated to code
once they have a specific idea of what
they’re trying to do,” Sarkar said.
“Many of our entrepreneurs aren’t
technical,” she added. “But that doesn’t
mean they don’t know what problems exist in
Nigeria and they don’t have a solution to
Among those solutions are startups like
OneTrack, which offers personal security
products for children, such as a backpacks
outfitted with mobile tracking
Even Microsoft learns
The cultural exchange proved to be
illuminating, even when it wasn’t.
were coding one night ... working on
prototypes,” Sarkar said. “The lights go
out. We all stop like, Oh, my gosh, the
lights are out. Now what?’ No one notices.
They (the coders) just keep typing. To them,
it’s a way of life.”
The experience was a real-life snapshot of
the daily infrastructure hurdles that exist
for some Microsoft users around the world.
It provided invaluable feedback for
executives on the ways in which product
offerings can be further improved.
“One of the things that we are actively
focusing on now is, how can we have a better
off-line experience for our products,”
Sarkar said. “We can’t just build for the
environments we know.”
“For us, it’s about learning. When we say,
‘empower every person on the planet,’ we
truly mean empower every person on the
planet,” she said.