Twenty-five years ago downtown Austin was a sleepy city center. There were no coffee shops, few restaurants, and events like South By Southwest were in their infancy. Flash forward to today and Austin is one of the most vibrant and livable cities in the United States. Driving much of this incredible evolution has been the rise of a technology culture based in and around the city. Companies like Dell, Apple, and Google are here, as are dozens of start-ups focused on software design, digital gaming, and mobile applications. The technological sophistication reaches from the highest echelons of big business down to our children and their hobbies.
This reach was evidenced March 2, 2013 as high-school students from across Texas converged in Austin to participate in HP Code Wars, a computer coding competition in which students tried to solve 22 complex problems. While the winners were awarded trophies and all participants could win other prizes, the shared excitement of the event and the challenges seem to be the highlight of the event for most participants.
Young students who are interested in programming and technology-driven projects have many opportunities in Austin to broaden their skills, all while meeting other like-minded students. There are ongoing activities, such as Central Texas FIRST LEGO League (FLL) introduce students age 9-14 to real-world engineering challenges by building LEGO-based robots. FLL teams guided by their imaginations and adult coaches, design, build, test and program robots; apply real-world math and science concepts; learn critical thinking, team-building and presentation skills. There are also courses for kids as young as 6 years old. See their website (http://centraltxfirst.org/).
For students who want to immerse themselves in technology learning projects there are ‘computer’ summer camps. For example, iD Tech Camps offers courses at St. Edwards University campus. These courses, designed to keep student-teacher ratios at about 8-1, cover a variety of cutting-edge topics including video game design, mobile phone app development, computer programming, and digital video editing. Courses are a week in length and are offered at various times throughout the summer. For complete information, see their website (http://www.internaldrive.com/locations/tx-summer-camps-texas-computer-camps/st-edwards-austin-summer-camp/).
Another excellent learning opportunity is the Digital Media Academy at the University of Texas (http://www.digitalmediaacademy.org/locations/kids-teens-locations/the-university-of-texas-at-austin/). Here kids and teens get to explore their interests, learn with their peers, and create a unique project. The camps range from one to multiple weeks, with options for day or overnight stays. Working under the guidance of experienced industry professionals, kids will explore filmmaking, game development, music and video production, web design, or cartoon creation.
Finally, another fantastic event that is reflective of Austin’s place in the “techno-geek world” is the annual SXSW Interactive Festival (http://sxsw.com/interactive) held in downtown Austin. This year’s festival, March 8-12, will feature five days of compelling presentations from the brightest minds in emerging technology, dozens of exciting networking events hosted by industry leaders, the SXSW Trade Show, and an unbeatable lineup of special programs showcasing the best new digital works, video games and innovative ideas the international community has to offer. While a full pass to the entire event is costly, there are many free associated events suitable for folks of all ages to explore emerging technologies and socialize with others.
As Austin evolves in the 21st century there is little doubt that it will remain a hub of technologically-savvy individuals of all ages. The myriad educational and professional opportunities create a unique and exciting playing field. The above opportunities just skim the surface of this exciting time. Look around, explore, and get involved!