“I decided I wanted to do something amazing.” An inspired statement, but not one you hear often out of the mouths of 16-year-olds. Jake Sunday is an exception to a lot of norms, in a lot of different ways. This teenager from Utah is a high school student who can already add a handful of impressive items to his resume—like keynote speaker at JavaOne4Kids, one of the largest computer science conferences for kids in North America; creator and developer of the Alice Arcade, an original programming project that teaches kids how to code; and producer of the latest uber-popular exhibit at the Leonardo Museum in Salt Lake City.
Jake got his first taste of computer science about eight years ago, after taking a basic tech class where he was introduced to the Java programming language and developing 3-D animation. From there, he says, he just stuck with it and started to explore programming. In October 2015, Jake attended JavaOne4Kids, an Oracle Academy sponsored event held each year on the Saturday before Oracle OpenWorld, where he participated in Oracle Academy workshops. Now 16, he’s got more than a fair handle on Java and uses his skills and knowledge to create games as well as inspire other students to learn to code.
But Jake’s biggest project to date is the one that landed him a turn as a keynote speaker at JavaOne4Kids 2016. It’s the Alice Arcade, a retro-inspired gamified instruction of Java programming basics—using a game system reminiscent of old-school favorites like Pac-Man™ and Frogger™—that Jake merged with the programming instruction tool, Alice.
Developed by a team led by Carnegie Mellon University, Alice invites learners with little or no experience to learn the basics of programming with Java by developing 3-D animations, stories, and games via a drag-and-drop functionality where movements correspond to coding language commands.
Because Alice is a useful tool to segue newcomers into the foundations of programming, Jake knew it was the right development environment to leverage to help others learn to code. What he likes about Alice, he says, is that students come to deeply understand the fundamentals of Java without even realizing it.
It first started when I attended JavaOne4Kids. After seeing all these people doing amazing things, I decided I wanted to do something amazing.
The Alice Arcade is the result of Jake’s exposure to Alice at JavaOne4Kids 2015. “It first started when I attended JavaOne4Kids. After seeing all these people doing amazing things, I decided I wanted to do something amazing,” said Jake. Intrigued by Alice, Jake took his new skills and applied them to developing the arcade game. The Alice Arcade is designed to introduce a user-friendly, guided introduction to programming with step-by-step display instruction prompts that show and tell the user everything they need to know.
For Jake, creating Alice Arcade wasn’t just about seeing what kinds of cool things he could do. All the work was in favor of a cause: As a member of the Boy Scouts of America embarking on his Eagle Scout Service Project, Jake was asked to demonstrate his leadership through an effort in service to the community. He explains that the challenge was to impact community, schools, and the church—and he believes he accomplished all three with Alice Arcade.
And if there were any doubts about Alice Arcade being an amazing thing, they were quieted when curators from The Leonardo, Salt Lake City, instated the system as a permanent exhibit.
Since 2011, The Leonardo, a science, technology and art museum, has opened its doors and the public's minds to innovative creations to teach and inspire the community.
“It’s one of the most popular exhibits at The Leonardo right now and it was developed by a 16-year-old,” Jake humbly says. "I like that kids are willing to walk up to this—my arcade—and play on it." He finds it especially cool when kids don’t know how to code but are excited about learning to do so.
A lot of schools these days are not focusing on computer science, though I wish they would and I’m just glad that my school is focusing on it..
Very simply put, Jake says with confidence that he just believes every kid should learn some bit of programming.
If he had it his way, Jake would introduce kids to computer science at an even earlier stage than high school. Middle school, he thinks, is the perfect time to start laying the groundwork with Java fundamentals with tools like Alice. “I believe that we should at least try to put computer science in middle schools, high schools, and colleges so everybody can get familiar with it even if they don’t like it. Just get the basics down.”
Why? He didn’t hesitate to let us know that in the year 2020, there will be 2.5 million opportunities within the computer science realm, and he worries there won’t be enough educated individuals to take advantage of those opportunities.
He chose a game system to house his Alice project because he, like many educators twice his age, is looking for avenues of delivering computer science education that appeal to young people and encourage them to give programming a try. “A lot of schools these days are not focusing on computer science, though I wish they would and I’m just glad that my school is focusing on it. We have two computer science classes a year,” he proudly says, bemoaning the fact that many schools across the country “don’t even have one.”
He’s a champion for computer science education in part because it’s plain to him that his own schooling set him up for this success. As an Oracle Academy Institutional Member, his school system has prepared him well for the kind of projects he’s excited about creating and perfecting.
It’s clear Jake’s thought quite a bit about the future of computer science education and is determined to leave his—and Alice Arcade’s—mark on the landscape. But as for his own future plans? Jake’s still weighing his options and looking to a couple different pathways. He excitedly talks about his plans to apply to some of the country’s top schools for programming and game design, and without a doubt will continue to impact the world of computer science and education for years to come.