Hedge Fund Pioneer's Investing Advice for Kids: Learn Coding

  • New York benefit previews kids’ program language Scratch 3.0
  • Guests code during cocktail hour; Fred Wilson honored

David Siegel has some advice for kids with an appetite for investing -- they should start from Scratch.

Scratch commands as wall decor

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Siegel, the quantitative hedge-fund pioneer and co-chairman of Two Sigma, was at the Scratch Foundation benefit Wednesday night at the event space Tribeca Three Sixty in Manhattan. Siegel, a foundation co-founder, said Scratch, an easy-to-use free program, encourages kids to learn coding as technology comes to dominate his world of finance.

"With Scratch, in one day, you’ll be able to create something that will make you go, ‘Wow! I did that,’" Siegel said. "It allows kids and even adults to express their ideas in an algorithm, and that inspires you to learn more."

Scratch and Lego Boost blocks make this guitar play music. The red and green blocks play different notes.

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

On a laptop, Carmelo Presicce, a research assistant in the Lifelong Kindergarten group of the MIT Media Lab, pulled up a screen in Scratch, which was developed a decade ago. In the time it takes to down a pig in a blanket, one guest had made an orange cat (the Scratch mascot) walk across a city scene with a butterfly fluttering above. A new 3.0 version next year will introduce physical components, like a 3-D printed controller and a Lego product called Boost.

Siegel, in an interview during cocktail hour, said he learned to code as a kid with Artspeak, a language of the early 1970s that used punch cards to generate shapes. That worked out pretty well for him -- and now he sees Scratch doing the same for the next generation.

Take his field. "Over the last 30 years, the kinds of people working in finance have moved very strongly to those with more technical and quantitative skills," Siegel said. "The nature of work in finance has evolved substantially."

Scratch will help kids prepare for the future -- especially, Siegel noted, as coding has transformed the job market.

David Siegel and Fred Wilson

Photographer: Chela Crinnion for Scratch Foundation

"Coding is the language of our times," said Siegel, who has a Ph.D. in computer science from MIT. "The world is controlled by computers and if you’re a worker on a job and you lack the kinds of skills that come from an algorithmic way of thinking, you’re at a disadvantage. Even if you’re not doing coding, you’re using computer-controlled equipment, and being able to understand how that machine works gives you a better ability to use it at its fullest."

Mitchel Resnick and Rosalind Hudnell

Photographer: Chela Crinnion for Scratch Foundation

Siegel began backing Scratch after his son learned to program with it -- reconnecting him with Mitchel Resnick, whom he knew from graduate school.

Resnick of the MIT Media Lab helped develop Scratch after observing children at Intel Computer Clubhouses.
He saw that the kids wanted to create animations, games and stories, which became the core of Scratch.

Rosalind Hudnell, president of the Intel Foundation, was honored at the event.

The name Scratch came from the remixing music culture. On the Scratch online community, users share their projects and remix them. Animated tacos and music videos for the Village People song "In the Navy" are popular at the moment.

The take-home gift: A set of cards to get kids started in Scratch, animating the letters of their name, for example.

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Scratch is available in dozens of languages and is available in Asia and Africa. Thanks in part to honoree Fred Wilson, New York City public school students also use it. The nonprofit he founded, CSNYC, is working to ensure all public school students have access to computer science education.

"Scratch is the gateway drug to software engineering. I’m not joking," said Wilson, co-founder of Union Square Ventures. "I know a lot of adults working on very hard computer science problems and they got their start at Scratch."

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