Death of the PC, the Winklevii's other Social Network, and tech ed in New York

No one knows exactly what computers will look like in just a few years.

The personal computer is dead. So says a fresh headline. I smell hyperbole, but the evidence is that now more memory chips are going into mobile devices than are going into desktops or laptops.  The real world lessons here for kids who want to make tech a career? Bedrock assumptions are smashed every couple of years, and we have no idea what the computers of the future will look like.

But they can prepare. The New York Public School's Software Engineering Academy opened its doors to around 130 high school freshmen just the other day. Some of New York's venture capital-types pushed for it, figuring a center of tech needs a supply of bright minds. Like 13 year-old Rahat Kahn of the Bronx, who comes in on the number 6 train loaded with such enthusiasm for tech, that he said he can’t live without it.  
 
He knows this because one day the power went off at home.  

“I had no clue what to do,” Rahat said.  “I just stood outside.  When I stayed home I would have the urge to go on the computer or something and use it.”
 
When I asked an admittedly unfair question to put to a young guy who just started high school last week, about his career plans, he was already very focused and clear: Something involving technology.
 
Before he started at the software high school, Rahat had experience fooling with basketball images in Photoshop. However, the actual computer programming that underlies those systems is new to him.
 
That is where Eric Allata comes in.  He teaches math at the academy, but he does it via the language of software programming. Like teaching statistics by having the kids learn how Netflix chooses movies for people.  He calls it a kind of modern-day literacy. 
 
“You know that question that students are always asking, why am I studying this?” Allata said.  “That has an answer immediately here.  Everything here feels so real and they’re motivated because of that.”
 
The idea is to develop a curriculum for this "modern day literacy" that could spread throughout the NY public school system.
 
New York is working at the graduate school level to add heft to its tech scene. In less than two weeks, there's a deadline for the first applications to Cornell's NYC Tech campus.  It's a test class class, a "beta" leading to a Master's in computer science to be housed temporarily  at Google New York while the fancy new buildings go up on New York's Roosevelt Island with opening set for Star Date 2017.
 
If you saw the Hollywood movie about Facebook, the Winklevoss Twins will be forever etched in memory. The well-chiseled Olympic rowers were in a long-running battle over their contention they came up with Facebook.  They settled for $65 million. Now, the Winklevoss Twins have invested a million in a fancy kind of social network called SumZero. Unlike many investment forums where people without expertise can just shoot off their mouths, Cameron Winklevos told me it is a social network for the pros. 
 
Cameron pointed out that people who work at hedge funds, private equity funds or mutual funds have skin in the game with their investments so they are accountable. “If they're right it's a great outcome," he said. "And if their wrong it hurts them in the pocket.”
 
After what happened with Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, the Twins might have been wary about partnering with fellow Harvard men. But Tyler Winklevoss says his comfortable doing business with another old school chum Divya Narendra, the SumZero CEO.
 
“We had a pretty interesting journey with the whole social network movie and whatnot,” Tyler said. “So we are battle-tested with Divya and we trust him as much as we trust each other."
 
Divya, the CEO, told me the twins bring social-networking, branding, and PR experience to the project. That...and a million bucks.

About the author

David Brancaccio is the host of Marketplace Morning Report. Follow David on Twitter @DavidBrancaccio

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