Often, great ideas are born from the desire to fulfill a need. Computer science aficionados-turned-advocates Neil Chaudhari ’24 and junior Will McGonagle ’23 noticed that their shared passion for programming didn’t have much of a community presence, particularly among people their age. That, they decided, needed to change.
Their great idea? Not just to create a computer science community, but to create one that is self-perpetuating. They launched Fairfield Programming Association (FPA) to provide access to coding resources for anyone who is interested, and a forum in which to share that interest with others. They hope that FPA will not only raise the bar for students who love to code, but will also raise money to provide coding education and resources to area schools in need.
“Our vision is to spread computer science education throughout Fairfield County in a way that is fun and accessible,” explained Chaudhari.
Earlier this winter, McGonagle and Chaudhari met with representatives from area schools to outline ideas for a coding competition which would raise money through entry fees and T-shirt sales. Though the organization is in its nascent stages, the plan is to eventually raise enough money to implement innovative ways to connect with area schools that don’t have the resources in place to teach their students about coding.
McGonagle, a computer programmer since age 7, devised the idea when he noticed that there were very few computer science opportunities for students in Fairfield County. Oftentimes it makes students who are interested in this type of work feel isolated and disconnected, he said. The main idea behind Fairfield Programming Association is to bring together students of all types who share this interest.
“We really want to build this community because at this point — and it’s sad — but there isn’t any,” he shared. “I think the connections and the collaborations can really lead to a lot of benefits.”
He predicted that by hosting events that invite students from other schools, programmers can find mutual strength and support in like-minded peers. For example, he said, if there aren’t a lot of female programmers at a certain school, these events can introduce them to other female programmers in the area, and provide even more ways to connect.
The next stage for FPA involves outreach. Looking to Horizons GFA as a model, the group will identify area schools with the greatest need, then work with those students on the concepts of code and other computer programming skills. This could include implementing Hour of Code events at schools, and related computer science concepts.
“Our vision is to make our Hours of Code more engaging so people want to come back and learn more,” Chaudhari said.
In other words, FPA hopes to turn one Hour of Code into hundreds of hours of code. One way to do this is by teaching ”real code” instead of block code, Chaudhari theorized.
“Block code isn't the best way to learn something. It simplifies it way too much and you don't really learn anything,” he explained. Instead, using real code creates a more tangible and interactive experience for learners, and hopefully sparks sustained interest.
The long-term goal for FPA is to become an official nonprofit, and McGonagle and Chaudhari are working with volunteer advisors to set that up. In its formal capacity as a nonprofit, FPA will be highly structured, including the implementation of a board of directors. But that process isn’t a quick one, which is why McGonagle, a junior, enlisted Chaudhari, a sophomore, to take the reins on the competition and outreach side, so that McGonagle can focus on governance and infrastructure of the organization. Both recognize an urgency to attract more participants and supporters if they want to see their vision not just come to life but sustain itself.
On its website, fairfield programming.org, FPA shares event sign-ups and educational resources, including links to its GitHub page, where users can collaborate through the FPA open-source platform. For more information, visit FPA online and sign up for their regular email updates.