I was a teenager in 1990s suburban Detroit, possibly the first human able/willing to “sing” along to the entire dial-up modem handshake “song” when connecting to America Online. My eyes were opening up to the World Wide Web at the same time they were opening up to the world in general; I’ve felt naturally at home on a computer ever since. I was a 15-year-old volunteer helping run a game on AOL, with coworkers my age or in their 50s, hailing from Hawaii to London to Germany to Australia. This was magic to me; I loved the landscape, and wanted to help flesh it out with my own creations.
Thus, halfway through high school, I knew I wanted to go into computer science. How lucky to feel so sure so early! There were just two tiny problems: 1) I didn’t actually know what computer science was, and 2) there wasn’t a lot of opportunity for me to find out.
I knew I was enamored with Sandra Bullock ordering pizza online in The Net, and Alicia Silverstone diverting Mr. Freeze’s satellites in Batman and Robin, but I had never actually programmed anything myself, and couldn’t envision myself doing it. Meanwhile, my high school didn’t really offer serious programming classes, and made it impossible for me to fit those into my schedule with the other courses I was required to take in addition to my college prep schedule. If AP Computer Science had been a possibility, I’d have leapt at that opportunity and probably thrived. I didn’t even know AP Computer Science was a thing until my senior year, at which point I tried to take it as a correspondence course—but it was too expensive. I ended up taking night classes at a community college to cobble together /some/ experience before college.
As a result, my first year of college was tougher than it should have been. It seemed like everyone had been programming since middle school; I felt out of my league. I had enough natural aptitude to fight through and do well, but two things were clear to me even as a college freshman. First, I could have done so much more with a better head start. And second, I was a middle-class white male who’d had my own computer as a teenager … I did have a head start!
This is why TEALS is so important to me. I’m in a position to give computer science exposure to kids who wouldn’t otherwise have it. To kids who need that exposure far more than I did.
Jim Steinberger is a Software Architect at DonorsChoose.org. He teaches Computer Science at The Young Women’s Leadership School of Brooklyn, and has taught previously at the East-West School of International Studies, as part of the Microsoft TEALS program. With a M.S. in Computer Science from the University of Michigan, and a firm yet eyes-wide-open belief in public education, Jim has been working toward a fruitful marriage between career and passion. His involvement with TEALS has been a strong complement to his work at DonorsChoose.org, an online charity connecting citizen donors to public school classrooms in need.