Codestarter Laptops: How we’re making it super simple for kids to get started.

Now that we’ve shipped our awesome automated thank yous, I want to explain a bit about how we’re simplifying Codestarter’s onboarding process for kid coders. Since our first laptop delivery on July 20 to CoderDojo NOVA in Alexandria, Virginia we’ve learned tons about what works and what doesn’t when you’re trying to help kids start using their very own computers.

If you want to take a step back, you can read first about How we turn $199 Chromebooks into Ubuntu-based code learning machines for kids.

Onboarding Kids
Version 1:
In Codestarter’s pilot efforts at giving laptops to kids, we worked closely with Partner Coding Organizations to include more kids into their programs. But we focused on the laptops, instead of the kids. We shipped our laptops and Partner Coding Orgs identified high-potential kids and connected them to the laptops we delivered. We created video tutorials for Partner Org leaders and paper handouts for kids, in hopes of making the onboarding process straightforward.

Partner Orgs took charge of onboarding kids, which included first-run configuration of Ubuntu (selecting language, wifi, time zone, keyboard layout, name, username, computer name, and password), registering the laptop with us (entering serial number, name, email, age), and THEN filling out an intake survey with 20+ questions. Can you imagine what it was like to keep a group of excited, squirmy kids all focused on filling out surveys, getting parental consent forms signed, not pressing the spacebar so they wouldn’t erase Linux, and also not forgetting their passwords? IT TOOK FOREVER. Sometimes kids didn’t have enough time to complete the process. We’re still working to encourage those few kids to finish, and when they do, we’ll send out those thank yous.

Version 2:
We quickly realized that onboarding would go better if we asked kids to apply in advance, including filling out parental consent forms. This shortened the onboarding process a ton. Plus donors could now see the child they were funding, and we could track a donor to a child to a laptop. This felt great!

We also improved the installer so that our laptops automatically boot to Ubuntu instead of ChromeOS. In addition, pressing the space bar on boot no longer wipes out the Linux partition!

There were still some bumps though. Kids had a terrible time typing in their serial numbers correctly. Those suckers are long! Kids also have a knack for creating really secretive passwords, and then forgetting them. This results in a device that can no longer be used and must be re-installed. Finally, some quirk of the installation process occasionally results in the date of the machine being set to decades in the future. When this happens, it exposes a bug in Ubuntu’s DHCP client that results in the inability to connect to the internet. When the date is corrected, the wifi works again. We must extend a huge thanks to the Seattle CoderDojo for their patience in helping us track down this very strange bug!

Version 3:
In Codestarter’s most recent effort to simplify the onboarding process, we’ve worked from this question: What is absolutely necessary for a kid to do in order to get started coding?

Alex, our Lead Dev, created a fun experience that now looks like this:

When Salvador receives his laptop and opens it for the very first time, he clicks on a special icon and sees his smiling face. If it’s him (which it should be), then Salvador is prompted to take a photo of himself, which we send to the donors who crowdfunded his laptop.

On the front end, our Codestarter team has already scanned the serial number and pegged it to Salvador and his application. No more asking kids to enter serial numbers. We’ve also removed the username and password process (a couple of kids shed tears after locking themselves out). Now all computers are set with the child’s first name and a universal Codestarter password. Of course, kids can obviously figure out how to change their passwords as they learn their way around the Chromebooks. That’s part of the fun of having your very own computer, isn’t it?

We’ll continue to refine our process for onboarding, and for getting thank yous to Codestarter donors. We’re always open to feedback, so please keep in touch. And if you want to get involved directly to help us build out new features or refine our process, or to design more delightful materials, drop us a line about volunteering at