Valve and Homeschooling

January 18, 2013

Valve Handbook_cropped

I just read the Valve Employee Handbook, and was pretty impressed. Or maybe jealous. Jealous that companies like this didn’t exist when I was a young twenty-something passionate about IT. So I decided to go tell Nathan he should work for Valve when he grows up. (Jobs and careers are a popular topic for the elementary school set anyway.) Here’s what followed:

Nathan: “So I can help make Portal 3?”

Mom: <<sigh>> “Yes.” He would know just who Valve is.

Nathan: “Okay!”

Mom: “Do you know what things you are working on now that will help you get a job like that?”

Nathan: “What?”

Mom: “Your math and Scratch.” (Scratch is a programming language for kids designed by MIT.)

Nathan: “Oh, I’m on Scratch right now. Look what I posted….”

And I proceeded to read a discussion between Nathan and some other kids(?) about the strength of his passwords and using Scratch to write a program that evaluates passwords.

Let me interrupt this moment to say that I do not give my kids unfettered access to the computer and certainly not message boards. During the day they are allowed to visit exactly four sites: IXL, PBSkids, Scratch, and Google (and the last only in my presence).

My knee-jerk reaction was to be horrified that my son is discussing his password online! He assured me he would never do that. He also said, “You helped with me this password, mom, and it is ‘moderately strong.’ Maybe I should come up with my own that is stronger.”

I chuckled and left feeling reassured. My next thought might be a bit of a leap, but it was, “I love homeschooling!” Sure, many kids have the opportunity to spend their free time how they choose on evenings and weekends. But evenings and weekends are filled with making dinner, sports practice, Cub Scouts, taking baths, and reading stories. For school kids, add homework to that list. How much time to school kids really have to discover a passion such as this and follow their lines of thought down all the rabbit holes of discovery to their heart’s content? How many kids are learning network security by having a teacher stand up in front of a 20 minute computer lab saying, “Kids, never share your password online.” How cool is it that Nathan is learning about passwords by play-testing a user created password strength utility? Which will have a greater impact? Which will stick out in memory?

Whenever I am tempted to let that little voice of doubt creep up and question my choices, I remind myself of moments like these. My children are going to know how to pursue their passions and teach themselves the skills they need fulfill their goals. If you have a moment, check out the Valve handbook. For the self-motivated individual, it looks like a dream job. Are we preparing our children to get jobs like this, or to work in cubicles and punch clocks?

Hopefully Nathan can go to work for the 2030’s version of Valve. Nathan is only 7, after all.

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