Anyone who works with technology understands the only constant is change.
But we also know that with change comes opportunity. If we take a moment, we can help drive change by opening doors for young minds poised to take advantage of the almost infinite potential tech has to offer.
The trajectory of my own life was altered 25 years ago by a company that took a chance on me. A D.C.-based tech firm hired me straight out of undergrad. I was an English major who had some light coding experience, but the company had vision and saw my potential. They put me into a boot camp and paired me with sharp mentors who helped me take my skills to the next level. The rest, as they say, is history.
That experience unlocked potential that I never knew existed and launched me on one of the best career journeys that I can imagine. I’m passionate about “paying it forward” and that is what the Capital One Coders initiative is all about. I was humbled when I was asked to head this flagship program.
One of the things that drew me — and so many others — to Capital One is a shared commitment to giving back and making positive impacts in our communities.
The spirit of innovation that drives Capital One, the abundance of tech talent across the company, and our relationships with dozens of schools and community organizations across the country, provides a tremendous opportunity to encourage young people to pursue Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) careers and open their eyes to new possibilities.
Through our Future Edge program, we are investing $150 million over five years to make our communities stronger. Capital One Coders is a window into Future Edge: it epitomizes the mission by teaching middle school kids how to develop software — a critical skill for the jobs of today and tomorrow.
Douglas Lisk, a Capital One associate and Coders volunteer, said excitement was key to motivating students to learn.
“There are two ways to get kids excited about coding,” he said. “Be excited and have fun. If you’re stoked about building a new app they will pick up on that right away and jump right in. Watching students’ faces light up when they finish a project or get excited about a new idea reminds me why I wanted to be an engineer in the first place.”
Mentor and Capital One associate Lauren Wittenberg appreciated the chance to help give young girls a leg up on a potential coding career. Only about 26 percent of students in STEM-related fields in the United States are women, according to a 2015 American Association of University Women report, revealing a gender empowerment gap that Wittenberg and other Capital One Coder mentors are trying to overcome.
“Volunteering for Coders makes me think about how I would love for the kids to pursue a career similar to mine,” she said, a sentiment driven by fellow mentor Catherine Sambula.
“Encouraging young ladies to study STEM is very important to me,” Sambula said. “I think we can do so much more to move the needle on this, and I saw this as an opportunity to do my part.”
Since the program launched in late 2014, nearly 2,500 Capital One associates spent more than 54,000 volunteer hours as Coders mentors and instructors. They engage one-on-one with students, share their passion for technology, and get kids excited about STEM at a critical time in their education. Armed with the basic principles of software development and the help of the MIT App Inventor learning platform, students even get a chance to design and build their own mobile apps at the culmination of the 10-week program. And new this year, Capital One will donate $170,000 in Coders Continuation Kits — $10,000 grants to help schools offer technology and STEM education after Coders wraps up.
While the stats are impressive, nothing beats seeing Coders in action. A couple of weeks ago I visited Binford Middle School in Richmond, Virginia. It was incredible to see our associates working side by side with students. The energy and excitement in the classroom was palpable as kids showed off their newfound skills and demonstrated working code. For some, it’s an experience that just might change the course of their education or professional journey.
Jordan Harris, a 10th grade student in Richmond, was one of the first Coders to graduate in 2014.
“It was good to have a goal in mind,” he said, “Complete it and show off my final project.”
Capital One Coders was part of the reason Jordan — along with classmates Desja Bonner and Chayse Tucker — decided to attend CodeRVA, a high school designed to help students prepare for careers in computer science. Through Coders, ninth grader Bonner gained the tools she needed to continue learning on her own. She’s now teaching herself HTML.
“It felt great to complete the program,” Bonner said. “I love being able to design things.”
Tucker was inspired to become a website designer after his experience in Coders and enjoys creating mobile games.
“I should be able to start working after 12th grade,” he said, “since I’ll have completed internships and received an associate’s degree.”
So far, students from 75 schools have participated in the Coders program — about 4,000 in 2017 alone. At the end of each program, the students are surprised with a laptop of their own to take home and to continue working through new coding challenges.
Now more than ever, access to digital education and digital inclusion are essential to finding and staying in rewarding careers. While only about a quarter of K-12 schools currently offer a Computer Science course with programming included, 71 percent of all new jobs in STEM are in computing, creating a digital divide from an early age.
With Coders, we are preparing thousands of middle school students for brighter futures. It’s exciting to be a part of something that can have a profound impact on these students — sparking an interest they didn’t know existed before and opening the door to new opportunities.