Pick any sport and there is a clear path from youth engagement through high school. The options line the runway towards continued engagement with the sport. And while a select few will play their sport in college, with only the elite going to the Pros, the benefits of being part of the game are significant: building skills with collaboration, teamwork, creating friendships, and an understanding of work ethic. Many sports have mastered this talent funnel model while uplifting those involved. Why can’t we do the same for a career in tech?
While I wasn’t an athlete, I was part of a team at Ben Davis High School that competed in writing web applications. Ben Davis was ahead of the curve by offering web design classes but nothing to learn how to write applications for the web, so I taught myself this independently. My team competed in the Business Professionals of America (BPA) web application competition. We built a sports e-commerce store and finished first in state and went on to Nationals where we secured second in the nation. My mentors were the most important part of this experience, for they took an interest in fostering my passion for coding.
It’s the relationship between industry and education where companies should focus their resources to help create a tech talent funnel. There is great value in helping students from all backgrounds and socioeconomic levels learn how to code, as it illuminates a clear path towards a career in tech. This is a passion for me, as tech is a great equalizer. For underserved communities, the value of tech companies engaging with students who are interested in the tech industry can make a massive impact and in some cases lift a family out of poverty, improve their community, and cause a butterfly-effect of impact for those surrounding the individuals.
After graduation, I had believed that my next step was to earn a four-year degree. Disenfranchisement with the established route towards a Computer Science degree quickly set it, as it was like starting over at age fifteen. Their existing curriculum was outdated for the current demands, and paying for the education on my own, I identified it was not a good investment for me. Fortunately, I was hired by one of my mentors and started my tech career quite early. By the time my peers graduated from college with large amounts of their own student debt, I had five years experience as a software engineer while they were just beginning to build their futures. With the changing dynamic of technology, a four-year degree isn’t necessary since tech is more of a trade. For some, college is a pathway, however for many I think if there are clear alternatives they should be seriously considered when deciding their future.
If it was not for corporate engagement that I experienced during high school, I doubt I would be a founder of a tech company at my age and I definitely would not have as many years of experience. Fortunately, there are coding boot camps like Eleven Fifty Academy. I engage with their UX/UI course on a regular basis as a corporate partner and mentor. Many of their students are transforming their life towards a career in tech, and come from diverse backgrounds, as well as varying levels of experience. Many have no experience at all and have discovered their passion at a different point in their life. It’s inspiring to see that it’s never too late to follow your passion. Opting for a boot camp is considered nontraditional but that may quickly shift to being more of a norm.
With STEM education being a passion of mine, I enjoy spending free time volunteering with the TechPoint Foundation 4 Youth. The earlier that students learn how to code and engage with technology, the better. I never know if the sixth grader that I am coaching will one day create an app that will change the world in some significant way. Even if they don’t change world, it’s inspirational to me to see them changing their world! I will always help when I can with teaching the youth STEM because you never know how that hour-of-code or that 1:1 session will change their life.
Being a self-taught coder since high school, I am incredibly thrilled to hear that there are focused efforts on creating alternative paths for the gap between high school and workforce. More often than not, this gap widens with underserved populations. Had opportunities like Eleven Fifty Academy existed when I was in high school, I would have absolutely taken advantage of this to move my career forward at a faster pace, while being more cost-effective. I believe that creating low-cost opportunities is a critical step towards sustainability for any individual.
I don’t want my story to be unique, I want any kid to find their opportunity and to have the options to pursue a career in tech. These are good paying jobs and tech is an excellent opportunity to uplift individuals, families, and communities. I am invested in the success of individuals — youth and adults — who are interested in tech careers and I strongly encourage my peers to do the same. We need to cultivate the coders and tech leaders of tomorrow, today, by showing them what is possible.