Postcards

How the power players do it - by Fortune senior editor at large Patricia Sellers

If Mark Zuckerberg taught you to code...

February 26, 2013: 11:29 AM ET
Hadi and Ali Partovi

Hadi and Ali Partovi

Some people dream about becoming the next Mark Zuckerberg.

How distressing, then, that only nine states count computer science as credit toward high school graduation. The number of U.S. schools teaching computer science has actually declined in the past eight years.

Two wealthy and well-connected coders I know today launched a star-studded video about getting kids and educators jazzed about coding.

Hadi and Ali Partovi, who are funding the film and their new Code.org with their own millions, persuaded tech stars like Bill Gates, Zappos (AMZN) CEO Tony Hsieh, Square CEO Jack Dorsey, and Facebook's (FB) Zuckerberg, to talk about why learning to code is a must and how coding figures in their own success.

The video doesn't reveal the Partovi brothers' own story--a fascinating tale about how learning to code propelled them.

Born in Iran in 1972, the twin brothers lived there during their first 12 years. "It was a scary time under an Islamic totalitarian government at war with  Iraq," says Hadi. The boys taught themselves to code on a Commodore 64 computer that their dad, a professor at Iran's leading technical university, brought home from Italy.

Education was paramount in the Partovi family. When they got out of Iran in 1984, parents and twins slept in a bedroom in their grandparents' Tarrytown, New York home--saving money so the boys could attend private school. Geeks of equal measure (Hadi was valedictorian, Ali was salutatorian in high school), they worked their way through Harvard teaching computer science. Hadi and Tony Hsieh, on a Harvard Computer Programming team together, placed seventh in a global coding competition.

Then the brothers scored in the startup world. On the founding teams of Tellme (Hadi) and LinkExchange (Ali)--Hsieh's pre-Zappos startup--the brothers both made money selling those companies to Microsoft (MSFT). Leveraging college connections, they also invested early in Facebook, Dropbox, Airbnb, and Zappos.

"Go to Harvard, meet the smartest people and invest in them," advises Hadi. "That's the best way to make money."

Oh, and learn to Code. Their new video--directed by Lesley Chilcott, a producer of Waiting for Superman and An Inconvenient Truth--will be shown in schools and in movie theaters, thanks to Microsoft's sponsorship. The short film is smart and entertaining, but as you might expect, some of the best stuff landed on the cutting room floor. Here's an outtake that the Partovi brothers shared with us exclusively: Mark Zuckerberg on how he inspired one kid to code.

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About This Author
Pattie Sellers
Pattie Sellers
Senior Editor at Large, Fortune
Executive Director of MPW/Live Content, Time Inc.

Pattie Sellers has written more than 20 Fortune cover stories including "Marissa Mayer: Ready to Rumble at Yahoo," "Muhtar Kent's New Coke," "Oprah's Next Act", "The $100 Billion Woman" (Melinda Gates), and "Gone with the Wind" (Ted Turner). She co-founded Fortune Most Powerful Women and oversees the Fortune MPW Summit, the preeminent gathering of women leaders in business and beyond—and programs such as Fortune MPW Entrepreneurs and the Fortune-U.S. State Department Global Women Leaders Mentoring Partnership. Pattie also develops Live Content across Time Inc. Her blog, Postcards, is about how power players lead and navigate their careers. Pattie won Time Inc.'s prestigious MVP award for her performance in 2012.

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