This post has also been published on Medium.
After studying the kinks and workarounds of the Microsoft Office Suite in my seventh grade “Computer Technology” class, I chose to buy an enlightening book about learning HTML and CSS to pursue my curiosity in the technical field. After learning this skill, I made static websites on a daily basis that helped me practice web design and understand how users interact with websites. Subsequently, I decided to embark on a journey of learning Java, an object-oriented programming language, because I felt learning computer programming was the next thing to do.
From then to now, I’ve learnt a few programming languages, worked on challenging problems, and interned for a company that helped me understand work ethic and how to finish every started project. After nearly four years of programming in plentiful languages, I’ve become a mentor for Coder Dojo.
While interning at DoSomething in the Summer of 2012, I met an ambitious engineer (also known as the “Drupalista”) named Rebecca Garcia, who opened me up to the idea of giving back to the young tech community in New York City, consisting of many students wanting to learn how to program and build products on their own. I immediately loved the idea, and began volunteering at the next possible session.
Immediately after my first time there, I learned two very strong lessons: ambition can come at any age andto work towards a goal.
“Intelligence without ambition is a bird without wings.” - Salvador Dali
“The value of an idea lives in the using of it.” - Albert Einstein
Every once in a while, CoderDojo hosts a “drop-in dojo,” where students can come in with an idea for a program and a mentor/volunteer helps execute the idea to its full potential. I’ve begun to realize that novice programmers should attach themselves to a certain project, one that challenges what they don’t know and leaves space for what they already know.
Compare this to someone who wants to be able to speak enough of a language to survive in a foreign country for a month. The tourist won’t learn about letters, characters, and the sentence structure of the language, but rather the phonetics and how to say popular phrases.
We teach kids to start a project with an idea and to finish with their desired program running. CoderDojo doesn’t feel a student knows a sufficient amount in a language after taking a test or after doing homework, but rather by being able to complete a project using that language or framework. If you want to learn to program, have a goal in mind. Don’t learn everything about the language, just learn enough to complete your project and move on.
I was very fortunate when I began programming at a young age. I had a decent computer in the house that I could use on a daily basis, was blessed with programmer friends that could answer my questions no matter how elementary, and always had the opportunity to go to a nearby Barnes and Noble and pick up tons of books on a specific language. At CoderDojo, we help those with and without every privilege receive sufficient education to build what they want. We make sure every student has every resource they could ask for to complete their desired projects.
While mentoring at CoderDojo for the past few months, I’ve quickly come to the realization that the students can be very passionate for innovating and creating. The fact that students at the age of 7 are able to ask questions that college-graduate mentors have trouble answering blows me away at every session. Alongside stumping the experts, the students also come in with brilliant ideas for products that they wanted to build. Many students, in fact, leave the session with a working prototype of the ideal product that they wanted to build. Overall, mentoring has been nothing but a magnificent learning experience and I’ve been very lucky to teach some ambitious kids to program.