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Teaching Kids to Code

Originally posted on May 30, 2015, on LinkedIn.

In 2015, Michael & Martine Dowden, who (unbeknownst to them) were just about to start Andromeda, published a children's book, Programming Languages ABC++ (get it on Amazon). The book took a year to complete from start-to-finish but marked a turning point in their careers due to the international recognition they received as a result. What follows is the backstory of how this book came to be.

Here's the story...

Four years ago, when our son was born, a friend gave him a geeky board book about coding. The book was cute and clever, but something seemed to be missing. I later got the idea of creating a book of programming languages, where the text of each page was actually written in that programming language as a "Hello World" program. After talking it over with Martine we came up with the idea of making this as an ABC book, featuring a language starting with each letter of the alphabet.

Of course, life gets busy when you have a little one (I was still in grad school at the time), so time flew by without any real progress. A few times it was discussed and it finally made my to-do list of possible progress in 2013 after we backed the Robot Turtles board game on Kickstarter.

The game arrived in early 2014 and I began playing with both of my children (2 and 8 at the time), who (somewhat surprisingly) both did well. It was clear that the game would scale well with my son, but my daughter was going to need more of a challenge. Upon searching for more resources I discovered I had missed the Kano Kickstarter, but managed to place a pre-order for delivery at Christmas 2014.

During the first few months of 2014 I went through a lot of changes in my career, with the end result that I found myself with some free time for the first time in years. This was shortly after our son's 3rd birthday, so when I looked over my to-do list of projects I decided it was time to work on the ABC book.

Just one week later, we went to the Origins Game Fair where Martine was exhibiting as an artist. We rode with our good friend, artist David Lee Pancake, which gave me time to finish the first draft of the book in the car. The very next day, we ran into Alex Papadimoulis* and Patrick Roach, who were promoting their Release! the Game Kickstarter. I was really interested in their new game, but Martine had the brilliant idea to talk to Alex about the book I had just finished.

Alex and Pat were both very intrigued, and asked if we had a publisher yet. That hadn't even crossed my mind yet - I had been focused on getting it written, so Alex then offered to publish the book! We came away with that discussion with feedback on how to improve the book, and a publisher!

A few months later, as the Release! kickstarter wound down, we reconnected and I sent the second draft of the book over to Alex. From that moment the book became a serious project and we all invested countless hours in final language selection, research, writing, editing, illustration concepts, character concepts, layout, etc. Martine was the genius behind the pun-filled illustration concepts and Rachel Govert provided the amazing illustrations for the finished product.

*I knew Alex from his site The Daily WTF. We first met at Code PaLOUsa in 2012 where he gave me the awesome WTF mug, and we were there together as speakers in 2013.


I've been helping people learn to program since I started as a Teaching Assistant my second semester in college. Several classmates credited me with helping them keep their 4.0 throughout their programming classes, and several friends now have jobs in the tech industry that otherwise might have gone a different route. From speaking, to writing, to running a user group, to mentoring new developers, I have always had a passion to teaching people to be better coders. Unfortunately, I didn't know how to approach this with my own children. I've even worried that they might decide it's not particularly interesting simply because it's what Martine and I do for a living.


Our goal in creating this book was to come up with a way to introduce programming languages to children and to "create a way for software developers to connect with the kids in their life. Share a little about what they do, in a context that the kids will actually enjoy."

It is our hope that this book will be one more tool to help get children interested in coding.

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Programming Languages ABC++
written by Michael & Martine Dowden
illustrated by Rachel Govert
published by Inedo, makers of BuildMaster and ProGet

License: CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 (Creative Commons)