Call me hacker.
This past week, I took a ride to Monohasset Mill in Providence to drop in on Damian Ewens — DJ, educator, and man about town.
Seated at his kitchen table: Kerri Lemoie, a "rock star coder," as Ewens puts it, who got her start at Amazon and eventually returned to her native Rhode Island.
The two are partners in the latest offering from Providence's ever-expanding geekdom: Codery, a web development company with an educational bent.
Just a couple of weeks prior, they'd hosted a launch party in Ewens's apartment: ribs, watermelon punch, and a gaggle of local doers that included Allan Tear of Betaspring, Josh Silverman of Schwadesign, and public relations maven Andy Cutler.
The task for the assembled: hack Codery's web site.
Partygoers tweeted their remixes to the company and, after a couple more steps, got digital "badges" from Codery for their efforts — a sort of online version of the Boy Scouts' merit badges.
On this day, though, it was my turn. Crack the knuckles, fingers on Ewens's keyboard and, well, I was rather useless.
Lemoie, though, helped me use Mozilla’s Hackasaurus to cobble together a rather tame rejiggering of Codery’s pink site. And basic html, it turns out, isn’t all that difficult: <p> for paragraph, <br> for line break.
Teaching yahoos like me how to code is, actually, central to Codery's mission. The company plans to school its clients in the ways of the web. And in the coming weeks, Ewens and Lemoie — as part of Mozilla's "Summer of Code" — will organize a parent-child hackathon.
The pair will also offer training to Providence kids through The Hub, the high school wing of the Providence After School Alliance that Ewens runs by day; coding, he says, is emerging as a "fourth literacy" in education theory after reading, writing, and arithmetic.
But it's just theory, at the moment. High schools and afterschool programs, he says, need to catch up and produce more web literate students — "there are no unemployed coders," he notes.
Lemoie met Ewens when she was consulting for The Hub. And the pair immediately saw the potential in combining her online ninjery with his focus on education. Lemoie is teaching Ewens to code; Ewens has her reading John Dewey's Experience and Education, a seminal text in education theory.
The pair, wearing their Hub hats, recently won a $75,000 prize through the MacArthur Foundation's Digital Media + Learning Competition to implement an afterschool badges system that will allow students to prove they've learned certain skills — skills that will, hopefully, prove marketable after graduation.
Given the state of the newspaper industry, I could probably use some of those skills myself. Back to the laptop. Tweet my hack. I still haven't earned my Codery badge. Not yet.