Code for What?

Computer Science for Storytelling and Social Justice

By Clifford Lee and Elisabeth Soep

Foreword by Christopher Emdin

Coding for a purpose: helping young people combine journalism, data, design, and code to make media that makes a difference.





Coding for a purpose: helping young people combine journalism, data, design, and code to make media that makes a difference.

Educators are urged to teach “code for all”—to make a specialized field accessible for students usually excluded from it. In this book, Clifford Lee and Elisabeth Soep instead ask the question, “Code for what?” What if coding were a justice-driven medium for storytelling rather than a narrow technical skill? What if “democratizing” computer science went beyond the usual one-off workshop and empowered youth to create digital products for social impact? Lee and Soep answer these questions with stories of a diverse group of young people in Oakland, California, who combine journalism, data, design, and code to create media that makes a difference.

These teenage and young adult producers created interactive projects that explored gendered and racialized dress code policies in schools; designed tools for LBGTQ+ youth experiencing discrimination; investigated facial recognition software and what can be done about it; and developed a mobile app to promote mental health through self-awareness and outreach for support, and more, for distribution to audiences that could reach into the millions. Working with educators and media professionals at YR Media, an award-winning organization that helps young people from underserved communities build skills in media, journalism, and the arts, these teens found their own vibrant answers to “why code?” They code for insight, connection and community, accountability, creative expression, joy, and hope.


$29.95 T ISBN: 9780262047456 320 pp. | 5.25 in x 8 in 31 b&w illus.


Christopher Emdin.


  • Code for What? presents authentic and inspirational visions of young people making information technology their own, not for some imagined future, but right now—to enrich their lives and the lives of those around them.”

    Hal Abelson

    Professor of Computer Science and Engineering at MIT

  • Code for What? represents a paradigm shift from teaching coding to helping young people understand code as a resource for social change and personal transformation. The authors' gift for storytelling brings this text to life for readers.”

    Henry Jenkins

    coauthor of By Any Media Necessary: The New Youth Activists

  • “A beautiful, thought-provoking book about reimagining education in our tech-saturated world. The authors reveal the brilliance of diverse youth and what happens when they are centered in learning. Educators across all subjects should read this book!”

    Jane Margolis

    Jane Margolis, Senior Researcher, UCLA CS Equity Project; coauthor of Power On! and Stuck in the Shallow End