Today we have a guest post from SQL Server MVP Brian Knight.  Brian is the owner and founder of Pragmatic Works and is also co-founder of SQLServerCentral.com, BIDN.com and SQLShare.com. He runs the local SQL Server users group in Jacksonville (JSSUG), is a contributing columnist at several technical magazines, and does regular webcasts at PragmaticWorks.com. Brian has spoken at conferences like PASS, SQL Connections and TechEd and many Code Camps. His blog can be found at http://www.bidn.com.

When you look back on to what brought you to the stage you’re at today, it likely comes down to a few forks in the road where you chose to go left instead of right. In most cases, there was someone gently influencing you down one path. That’s exactly what the Pragmatic Works Foundation (http://www.pragmaticworks.org) hopes to accomplish through its non-profit work. We want nothing less than to change people’s lives and put a small dent in the world.

The program is broken up into an adult program, teaching veterans or those without the financial means basic T-SQL and soft skills such as interview techniques and resume building, and a kid program, hoping to inspire children to get into IT. In this post, I am going to focus on the children’s program, which aims to make IT fun for kids. Below, you can see our spring graduating class (other pictures from the foundation kids can be seen here: http://www.facebook.com/media/albums/?id=102656360126). The priority for our enrollment is underprivileged kids and many of our children come from the Guardian Ad Litem group. These are children who have deeply struggled in their personal life and this program hopes to give them a chance to broaden their horizons and unlock their potential.

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First, the good news, college enrollments are up by a large factor in the United States, seeing an exponential growth since 2000. Much of this could be attributed to the job market being tighter and people having to go to college to break open that first door.

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Now, the bad news. While enrollments have seen an exponential growth since 2000, computer-related degrees has seen a dramatic decline (source: US Department of Education, NCES) since 2003. At the same time, IT is one of the major job creators in the economy with database-related fields having less than a 1% unemployment rate (source: CareerBuilder). This is causing many of the largest companies to send more IT jobs overseas to cover the shortage in talent.

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So, how can all of us make an impact? One way is to get kids interested in IT and show them how to have fun with it at an early age. When I was a kid, I remember having my dad show me how to program my first GW Basic program. This helped me find something that I love and am fortunate enough to make a successful career from.

This is the goal of the Pragmatic Works Foundation. The youth program first teaches children 8-16 years old how to program their first game using Microsoft Kodu (http://www.fuselabs.com). The first few days give them the basic “rules” of game development. After that, the children pair up and build arcade games with only their imagination as the limit.

The best development comes with the Lego Mindstorms. With Lego Mindstorms, the kids build a robot given a short time period that attempts to solve a challenge, like racing around a track on the floor. In just two days, we give the kids the basic foundation and guidelines and then send them off to solve the challenge however they see fit. We end the week with a robot battle sumo-style. Thanks to the SQL Server team, we were able to give away an Xbox to the child who achieved the highest marks in the class at the grand finale.

The most amazing part of the program was hearing the kids say they wanted to learn how to be a developer when they went to college, realizing we gave them a small nudge down the fork in the road towards IT. Seeing children from an underprivileged background realize their potential for the first time in their life and discover that they have the capacity to reach for the stars someday through IT is the best reward we could ask for.

For more information, visit http://www.pragmaticworks.org.