Carmel Valley engineer runs unique nonprofit school that teaches computer programming to youths

By Arthur Lightbourn

Former Navy pilot, electrical engineer and computer manufacturer Vic Wintriss has the outrageous idea that children of grade- and middle-school ages can be taught computer programming — and, who knows, might even become the next Steve Jobs or Bill Gates — or at least help alleviate a looming national shortage of one million programmers that threatens the current U.S. leadership status in technology.

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Vic Wintriss (Photo: Jon Clark)

Wintriss is the founder and executive director of the private nonprofit Wintriss Technical Schools Inc. (WTS).

“As far as I know,” he said, “there is no other school in the United States, or the world for that matter, that is teaching kids this young the Java™ computer programming language. Most academics think it’s too hard for them to learn, too complicated, too difficult” and too costly to hire Java teachers.

Java, originally developed by James Gosling at Sun Microsystems in 1995, enables programmers to use English-based commands to write computer programs, instead of having to write instructions in numeric codes.

Once a program is written in Java, the instructions are translated into numeric codes that computers can understand and execute.

The language, first called Oak, after an oak tree that stood outside of Gosling’s office, was later renamed Java in recognition of the great quantities of coffee consumed by the computer language’s creators.

WTS offers “after-school” computer programming classes in Java to boys and girls, from age 10, grade five, up through middle school.

“I want to get these kids hooked on computer programming because it just opens up a whole new world for them,” Wintriss said. “Most of our students are from the Carmel Valley, Del Mar, Rancho Santa Fe, and Solana Beach areas; and we have an outreach program for Hispanic kids.”

The motto of the school is: “Changing kids’ lives with Java™.”

We interviewed Wintriss in his one-classroom school located in a hacienda-style courtyard office building on High Bluff Drive on the edge of Carmel Valley.

The classroom is surprisingly small — 200 square feet — with room just enough to accommodate four state-of-the-art Apple iMac computer stations.

Accordingly, class sizes are small, usually two or three students. “So it’s basically individualized instruction from a professional teacher, often assisted by an intern,” Wintriss said.

For students’ inspiration, on one wall of the classroom are three large framed blueprints of a Class 1 heavy-cruiser Starship, a ray gun and a hand-held Type II phaser, all out of the science fiction TV series “Star Trek.”

Wintriss is a blue-blazer type of guy who first got interested in electronics as a teenager while earning his amateur radio operator’s license back during the days when to qualify you had to learn and be able to communicate in Morse code — a communications code, you may remember, consisting of various sound sequences of dots and dashes or “dits” and “dahs” representing letters of the alphabet and numbers, and used by “ham” radio amateurs, professional radio operators on ships, telegraphers, the military, and spies in Hollywood WWII movies.

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