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Where Does the Tech Talent Pipeline Begin? Virginia Invests in K-12 Tech

A bill creating a fund to help recruit and retain more computer science college faculty in Virginia cleared its first legislative hurdle yesterday. But many say building a tech talent pipeline starts with the K-12 education system.


At Virginia Commonwealth University, Dr. Caroline Budwell, is helping students get started with an intro to programming class. For many of these students, like Brent Dela Cruz Credo, this is their first encounter with tech.  

Credo: In my high school, it’s merely an elective. And you really didn’t know about it unless you asked about it.

Other students learned tech fundamentals in high school, like Asia Shell. She says that’s how she knew she wanted to pursue computer science as a career in college.

Pauly: Without those classes, do you think you would be here today?

Shell: Umm…no, no…

The same is true for student, Jeffrey Duah.  

Duah: I didn’t even know what programming was until I took my first class.

Virginia’s facing a shortage of computer science teachers not only in college, but also at the elementary, junior high and high school level.

Chris Dovi’s been working to address that shortage for years. He’s Executive Director of CodeVA, which works to train teachers to explain tech to their students.

Dovi’s wife used to teach in Hanover, but now leads CodeVA’s training efforts. The non-profit has worked with most public school districts in Virginia. Dovi says they also championed legislation in 2016 requiring tech in K-8 classrooms.

Dovi: By middle school the requirement is that you start to transition to a typed language. So typed language would be an industry language. Java, javascript, C plus plus...

The bill also raises standards for tech in high school. Those changes kick in this fall. Virginia Governor Ralph Northam has included $2.7 million in next fiscal year’s budget for professional development and training to help districts implement the new standards.

Meanwhile, colleges like VCU are also trying to help plant a seed in young people's minds that a career in computer science is even an option. Paul Rocheleau is a founding trustee for VCU’s School of Engineering. Computer science classes are in that department.

Rocheleau: So we're spending time with the high schools and the counselors and the science teachers and the technical clubs, going into the middle schools and going into the elementary schools just to build general awareness and give them hands on experiences.

The state might also get some help from the private sector. Retail giant Amazon has pledged to invest $25 million in local public schools over the next two decades as part of their plans to expand here. But it’s unclear how much of that money will be spent to boost tech in Virginia classrooms. The company did not return a media inquiry Thursday.


Megan Pauly reports on early childhood and higher education news in Virginia