When I was 12 years old, like most girls my age, I struggled with my identity, wanting to fit in and figuring out what I was good at. I received my first hand-me-down computer in 3rd grade from my godfather and I was hooked. I started playing PC strategy games filled with building cities, managing economies and maneuvering armies through imagined lands. The thrill of creating stuck with me as I taught myself basic web development in HTML & CSS.
Growing up in a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood where the teen pregnancy rate is around 95.46 (per 1,000 females ages 15 to 19 as of 2012 census data) and gang violence is prevalent; it’s obvious that there are very few role models. Being constantly teased about my mixed Asian and Latino heritage, I felt like an outcast.
A summer at MIT changed my life…
My oldest sister saw my interest in computers as more than just “playing video games”, I often got in trouble for staying up late, and hogging up our telephone line with dial-up.
She took a risk, and made an investment in me; 2 weeks at iD Tech Camps at MIT in exchange for a summer’s worth of babysitting. I woke up early on my sister’s couch to take the bus alone in an exciting new city.
Being surrounded by so many passionate people who shared similar interests blew my mind. I never thought there were others like me! For once I felt like a cool kid.
I was introduced to the idea of technology as a fun and exciting career, not some lofty idea for just engineers hiding in a lab.
Returning to teach at MIT
Four years later, I returned to the same program, this time as an instructor teaching front-end development and animation.
I can definitely say it was one of the best summers of my life, where I worked 60 hour weeks, laughed and helped kids build websites and games around whatever their interests were. For many the hardest part was deciding what to make their website on, it was a turning point where they could explore their passions.
I made lasting friendships with talented people both through teaching and attending the program. They have gone on to forge their own careers in the tech industry, notably at Google, Amazon, Microsoft and Grooveshark.
I want kids to know that there are opportunities out there, that you have a chance to follow your dreams no matter where you come from.
Joining Do Something
I took a leap and left college with the intent of working full-time and finishing school part-time. I decided Boston was a beautiful city, but I wanted something bigger. I got just that; I moved to NYC and worked full-time as a developer at Do Something, building websites to activate over a million youth for social change.
I’ve had the opportunity to work on campaign websites ranging from arts education, anti-bullying, homelessness, music education and even saving lives through bone marrow donor registration.
And the best part? I coded, created, played with servers–did exactly what I love, putting together the pieces with an amazing team.
Co-founding CoderDojo NYC
It occurred to me that iD Tech Camps wasn’t something available to most kids, it’s quite expensive at around a $1,000 (USD) per week (not including meals or accommodations).
I leapt at the chance to start a non-profit initiative, and reached out to James Whelton via Twitter, the original founder of CoderDojo in Ireland.
With my co-founder Carl Sednaoui, the support of Do Something, Mozilla Web Makers and our amazing group of over 20 volunteers we've mentored over 100 youth on a zero dollar budget, taking no compensation.
Along the way I’ve met many inspiring people, I’ve had the privilege of being invited to The White House to discuss how we can bring more people together to share this love of learning.
I don't teach kids for the money, I teach them for the chance to ignite that spark. To show them that you can build whatever you set your heart to.
Teaching at CoderDojo NYC
Besides CoderDojo NYC, I've spoken at Girls Who Code, will be mentoring at Technovation Challenge this school year and am helping make connections at TEALS (Technology Education And Literacy in Schools) in the NYC area; an initiative to get STEM into underprivileged schools.
Author's Note: This article was originally published on 9/4/12, comments were unfortunately lost in site migration.
Image Credit: Ricky Cheng, Sam Richard and iD Tech Camps. All are original photos and may not republished without permission.