Building Code? Let’s Build The Next Generation of Coders

A new developer developing while developing the next gen of developers!

We put on an event in DC recently. Our DC Code Kitchen Meat & Greet. It was awesome! But it had little to do with code and everything to do with the people. I love technology and logic and I’m a confusing mix of introvert and extrovert, but I love bringing people together via technology, as does everyone here at IDEAA. And that’s what I saw at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in Alexandria, VA where the Code Kitchen was held. I saw people collaborating, people loving helping people. People, coders, engineers, who are often stereotyped as “introverted people avoiders” were outgoing people helpers. Busy like bees, flitting from table to table helping get repositories and install library components and even trying to revive an unseated, possibly borked hard disk.

Students from various local schools, learning Android development.

As the young people in our student track were settling in that morning, there was one young man who required some assistance. I went over to his desk to help him out and I noticed something in his demeanor. Something in his affect gave me pause, however I continued on answering his questions. He was assertive, somewhat pushy, but not intentionally trying to be, it was his manner.  A little later in the morning, his computer began having a problem that another teaching assistant was trying to help with. That assistant asked that I take a look because he’d already done so and was at the end of his ability to help although he was pretty certain what the problem was. After a time trying to help the young man, I too sought the assistance of another. I figured the problem was with the hard drive because of the symptoms, but I wanted someone else to take a look and validate my theory. So, I walked over to the table where one of our teaching assistants was seated and asked her what she thought. As I was explaining the problem, I commented that the young man who needed help may also have special needs. I’m no psychologist but I’ve worked with and around children for a very long time and I wanted to be sure we had someone helping him who would be sensitive to that. It was decided that we’d grab Josh who was one of the developers volunteering his time to help at the event. Josh then went over to help the young man whose laptop appeared to have bought the farm. Josh was there for a while and though we’re not set up to be the Geek Squad on scene, Josh did everything he could, short of reverse engineering the youth’s laptop. Unfortunately, it was beyond the tools we had on site and we weren’t able to get the laptop up and running again.

At the end of the day the assistant who was initially helping the young guy with the borked laptop approached me to thank us for the event. He told me that some of the students who showed up were special needs kids. He knew this because he was a teacher at their school. He wanted to thank us for how attentive you were to him, it made him feel like we really cared.

Big Gulps and Android... a match made in 7/11

Then there was a tenacious young girl who had an older laptop with a Wi-Fi card that kept disconnecting from the network in the middle of installing components for Android Studio. It was taking FOREVER to install but she wouldn’t give up. She asked for help and wasn’t afraid to do so, no matter how many times. One of our female engineers took to her and spent quite a bit of time at her table helping out. As a beginner, the young girl ended up impressing quite a few people with the work she completed that day. She asked for our engineer’s business card and said that she wanted to keep in touch. The young lass is hungry for more information and knowledge about Android programming. As a father of three, it made my heart happy to see this young, pig-tailed girl skip around the room after her “aha” moment! Even more so when she won one of our prizes for completing a coding challenge. First day, beginner and already completing coding challenges. BOOM! It does my heart happy to see people of any age, but especially children, have those “aha” moments because I see something more than a temporary joy. Those, “I did it” moments are confidence builders. And when you see that light turn on, as a parent, you know it means that kid may go on to do more because of one moment when they realized they can.

Awesome Josh

As I look back on this weekend, I’m probably not going to be able to tell you which coding challenges were won a few years from now but I will remember the faces of those I saw who experienced “I got it!” moments as I walked the room. I will remember one father who showed up with his 6 or 7 year old son and was showing him coding as he was just a beginner himself. That image will forever be etched in my mind. I won’t remember which version of Android Studio we were using that day, or which Udacity course was the basis of our curriculum, but I will remember the human connections we made. I will remember every face that lit up. I will remember watching students helping students. I will remember that when we empower young people, and eager learners of any age, we aren’t just building software or code we’re helping build up humans. Building apps is the present and the future but apps come and go. Building up people on the other hand, there can be no higher calling.

The Calm Before The Storm!

This article was written by Tshaka Armstrong, VP Community Affairs and Outreach in his/her personal capacity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of IDEAA, its sponsors or attendees._