Google’s Grasshopper: A free coding 101 guide for beginners

Corporate Startup of the Week

Automation, digital platforms, A.I., industry 4.0… these are all factors that have been changing the way we work for years now, and the effect is more real and exciting than ever. 

Every major industry including retail, health care, finance, and telecom is taking a leap into digital transformations – increasing the demand for programmers and talented ICT professionals in the labor market.

In fact, according to a study by McKinsey:

  • Automation will displace about 15% of the global labor force by 2030.
  • The demand for tech skills like programming will only increase in the next few years.
  • About 3% of the global workforce will need to change their occupation by 2030.

Wouldn’t it be great if there was a simple, convenient and free way for people to get their first taste of what basic coding is like? Well, now there is!

Meet Google’s Grasshopper! An easy-to-use app designed to help beginners learn to code on their smartphones.

But first, let’s kick things off with a little bit of background

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The 20% time rule.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock the last few years, you probably already know what Google is and what they do.

Today, Google has expanded far beyond its original offering to include a myriad of wildly successful products like Google Chrome, Google Maps, Android, and Gmail (just to name a few). 

Many such products (e.g. Google News, Google Adsense) were a direct result of the now-infamous “20% time” rule within Google which allowed employees to dedicate 20% of their workweek on innovative passion projects.

Although the 20% rule still applies, in more recent years, it’s become a bit harder for employees to take the time off, which prompted the question: What if employees could devote 100% of their time to their 20% projects? The answer: Area 120.

Google’s Area 120.

Area 120 is Google’s own version of an in-house corporate incubator, built to encourage innovative projects (and in case you were wondering, yes; the name does hint at the 20% rule). As described by managing director Alex Gawley: 

“We built a place and a process to be able to have those folks come to us and then select what we thought were the most promising teams, the most promising ideas, the most promising markets…”

What makes Area 120 different than other Google initiatives (e.g. Google X, Advanced Technology and Products Group (ATAP) is that they pursue projects within Google’s core business. Their ideas and founders come directly from internal staff as opposed to external sources.   

Projects that are green-lit by Area 120 have to pass what Larry Page calls the toothbrush test, which alludes to the need for products to be a necessity for users, used at least twice a day (like a toothbrush). Under this paradigm, their long-term goal is to launch businesses that will eventually match the scale and success of Google. 

More short-term goals are about learning and discovery more than anything else (e.g. immediate profits). There are quite a few interesting Area 120 products on the market already, including Rivet, Shoelace, Tangi, and Kormo. Grasshopper is just one of their many exciting projects.

Idea behind “Grasshopper”.

The idea for Grasshopper came to founder Laura Holmes from her own challenges in the area. She describes her late introduction to computer science (in college), and several other barriers that kept her from feeling comfortable with code, including the jargon, tools and even the general perception of what a coder “should” look like. 

In Holmes’ own words:

“I wanted to figure out what I could do to help with more diversity and inclusion in the tech industry. I wanted more people to feel like they could code. I wanted people to have an easier time than I did getting into the software industry.”

She decided to achieve that goal by pitching her idea (i.e. an app that taught non-technical adults how to code in a fun and easy way), to the team at Area 120.

Since its launch in 2018, Grasshopper has been used by over 2 million people to grow their coding skills. Not bad for a passion project. 

How it works.

The grasshopper app was designed to make it easier for beginners to learn to code in the small bits of spare time they have available during the day (e.g. waiting in line at the supermarket, commercial breaks or even those few minutes before you fall asleep in bed at night). 

  • Each lesson is quick and accessible on Android, iOS and all web browsers. 
  • Games and puzzles are used to help you practice and solidify your knowledge. 
  • You get real-time feedback that guides you like a teacher. 
  • The lessons get progressively more challenging as your skills develop.
  • You collect achievements as you level up. 

Once you’ve learned the basics you can choose to go on to more advanced online coding apps or even enroll in a course to begin a new career in computer science. The possibilities are endless!

What’s in it for Google?

When asked about why she created the Grasshopper app, founder Laura Holmes explained:

“We created Grasshopper to increase access to coding education and to help prepare people for career opportunities in tech.”

The “Grow with Google” initiative is similarly full of free resources to help users find new jobs, grow within their existing careers and expand their businesses. But what’s in it for Google?

Although the profit potential behind these free resources isn’t obvious at first sight, Google is, in fact, creating a wide array of opportunities for itself through these great initiatives:

  • By educating people on things like web development and coding, they’re basically creating a broader target audience for new products and services. 
  • People who learn with Google will be more likely to stick with the brand when buying a product in the future. 
  • With so many people using their services, Google can gain a deeper understanding about their user’s learning preferences. This in turn can help them create more effective products.   

What’s next?

The Grasshopper app is still going strong in its goal to make learning to code easier and more accessible to a larger and more diverse group of people. In October of 2019, the startup announced an expansion with 2 additional courses: “Using a Code Editor” and “Intro to Webpages”.

Both courses are available on desktop or laptop and their goal is to help users get a basic introduction to developing webpages. 

The new courses are part of the Grow with Google initiative to help more people prepare for a career in tech, expand their skill sets and grow their own businesses. 

As for Area 120, they’re still experimenting with some cool new concepts including: 

  • Fundo: A service that enables artists to host virtual meet & greets with their fans.     
  • Demand: A live music data analytics platform to help artists, venue managers, and promoters figure out their ticket prices, best venues and even how to market themselves more effectively. 

Don’t worry! We’ll be sure to keep you posted on their next nifty innovation!

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Ritza Suazo

Ritza Suazo

Innovation Journalist