At seven years old, now senior Will McGonagle “feigned illness” to stay home from school. While this is not usually celebrated in GFA publications, Will’s intentions were (pretty) pure. “I wanted to learn how to make my own video games so that I could make some new friends,” he admits. When he Googled “how to make a video game” free online coding courses came up and in short order, he was a self-taught coder with a new passion.
Fast forward almost a decade and McGonagle, together with GFA junior Neil Chaudhari, founded their own privately-funded 501(c)3 with the goal to expand access to computer science, coding classes, and non-proprietary code to all – particularly students in underserved school communities. They created The Fairfield Programming Association (FPA) after “seeing how income disparity contributes to a shortage of education” in programming and digital resources.
Today the FPA, with the help of nine GFA volunteers and eight international volunteers, runs charter programs at 11 schools across the country from Fairfield County to the west coast and trains high school students to tutor underserved elementary school students to code.
“We give them the resources they need to teach coding, to host coding events, or even to teach Python at public libraries,” McGonagle said.
You see those same programs that taught young Will how to make a video game at seven still exist, but now they are behind a paywall and not available to many. “We wanted to create a learning platform that is like Khan Academy - that is free and not ad supported," he explained. Of course, that poses a bit of a funding challenge. The FPA would need to be solely donor and sponsor funded and yet “it was difficult at first to get sponsors without a product, and hard to make a product without sponsors” he explained.
So the pair relied on something called “open source” coding, or shared intellectual property across the programming space. This is a concept developed by MIT professor Richard Stallman. McGonagle graciously explained to Dragon Digest that open-source code stems from the idea that typically when you write code you own the copyright. Open source is a license that allows for sharing, for your code to be used by others to build upon, and that anyone can modify and have full access to your code. In fact, one of the projects that the FPA is currently working on is an open-source-license database, OpenList, which is part of their OpenData program run by Tristan Ebrahimi. The FPA is also teaming up with Unity Technologies (NYSE:U), and Preponderous Software in the Open Projects program to develop an open-source videogame, along with learning resources that document and teach skills necessary for game development.
McGonagle explains that the mission behind giving access to learning and developing programs to people everywhere reminds him of a lesson from Mr. Guffin on the origin of the SAT assessment. “It is only true equality if everyone has the same access,” Mr. Guffin explained.
“He [Mr. Guffin] told us that the headmasters from all of the best private high schools used to call up colleges to recommend the best students in their classes. Then they introduced the SAT and they could find people who were a diamond in the rough." Everyone had an equal opportunity to create amazing things and help the world in tremendous ways, said McGonagle
Will, Neil, we will all be watching with pride as you continue to “help the world in tremendous ways.”
Here are GFA FPA Presidents: Chris Gemignani (Global Operations), Andrew Knight (Working Groups), Jamie Davis (Open-Source), Uri Moon-Rosha (Legal), Mark Freeman (Finance), Owen Simon (Publishing), Yash Gawande (Digital Media), Tristan Ibrahimi (OpenData), Ahmad Niass (Web Management).