In the rural town of Quincy, Washington, a majority Latino community and home to a large number of first-generation Americans who work in agriculture, a small group of students enter the classroom to take AP Computer Science. The class is normally co-taught by videoconference from the Microsoft campus several hours away in Redmond, but today’s class is a bit different than usual. Volunteers from the TEALS program (Technology Education and Literacy in Schools) are there to teach the lesson in-person and see how the students are doing. The program, with which I have volunteered for several years, aims to expand the number of high schools that offer computer science. At the start of class, Zack, one of our students, is excited to show us his new personal project: a Python script that does his math homework for him. Through a scholarship from Microsoft TechSpark, he and Jayr, another of our top students, spent the summer at Carnegie Mellon’s Summer Academy for Mathematics and Science (SAMS) program after finishing AP Computer Science with us last year. Both are now thinking of pursuing Computer Science as a career.
Jayr and Zack are on their way to becoming great engineers, but it wasn’t because Java came easy to them. Being a good programmer is never about knowing the right answer. Rather it is about persistence, teamwork, knowing when to ask for help, and building on what others have done. Programming has its moments of frustration, but the sense of accomplishment when your program finally works is unmatched. Whenever one of my students feels like they can’t succeed, I remind them that raw knowledge alone does not make a good engineer. Knowing how to wield a tool is useful, but companies like Microsoft don’t hire based solely on your ability to do so. We hire based on your passion for technology, and your thirst to keep learning long after graduation.
I was fortunate enough to have taken my first programming class in high school. Looking back, I realize that if I hadn’t, I likely would not have considered Computer Science as a career or ended up with the great experiences I have had. There are so many students out there like Zack and Jayr, who are passionate about technology, but don’t have the same opportunities to develop programming skills in high school. For that reason, I consider it an honor to be part of a program like TEALS, which works to ensure every student has a chance to learn programming, and can consider computer science as a future career.
Growing up in Tijuana, I never dreamed that I would end up in the United States working on a product like Xbox. I encourage every student out there to take the opportunity to learn Computer Science, either in your local high school or an online course, and give it a chance. I work on exciting problems in the gaming space, and I love sharing my experiences with my students, but what makes my job special are the kind and brilliant people I work with, who show up every day to make a difference in many people’s lives. I am excited to see what the next generation of software engineers has in store, and if you have a passion for technology and a thirst to learn, I hope to see you there.
Learn more at www.TEALSK12.org.