Coding club helps students seeking careers in tech


Courtesy Matt Stephenson Talking code at SXSW Senior Maria Contreras (center) speaks in March as part of a panel discussion at SXSWEdu, which is a conference focused on innovation in education. Contreas spoke about her involvement with the Code2College program while a student at Akins.

Before heading off to Rice University to study medicine and computer science this fall, senior Maria Contreras has some notable résumé items to showcase thanks to her involvement with Code2College.

The list includes two summer internships at Indeed, the online hiring platform, relationships with coding and tech professionals in the Austin area, and participating as a speaker at the SXSW Edu conference this year.

Contreras has participated in the after-school Code2College program since her sophomore year at Akins. Code2College has been active at Akins since 2016, providing training and career exploration experiences for students interested in learning about computer programming.

Contreras is a participant in Code2College’s Vision 2024 initiative, which is focused on placing 200 black and Latina girls into STEM roles by the year 2024. This initiative gives students like Contreras access to a number of female STEM professionals, senior executives ad companies like SailPoint and Favour delivery, and college scholarship opportunities that are guaranteed based on her maintaining good standing in the program. Contreras said she has experienced many benefits from participating in the Code2College program.

“The main benefit is that they’re teaching you how to code which is one of the most profitable skills nowadays,” she said. “Most salaries are from $80k to other people for $400k a year. So that’s a very valuable skill.

She added that the experience is also a lot of fun.

“You’re constantly learning with it. Constantly solving problems,” she said. “So for someone who likes to learn something every time and figure out problems, it’s a nice skill.

” During the after-school meetings, there are volunteer instructors that explain new concepts or a particular function in a programming language. Then students are prompted to apply it to an actual project.

“That’s how you learn coding by doing,” she said. “So that’s the approach you go to code uses like project-based learning,” Contreras said she believes it is important for young women of color to learn to code and get involved in programs like Code2College. During her summer internship at Indeed last summer, she was one of the only young women of color in the office.

“I was one of the few women in there. It’s mostly male-dominated,” she said. “So you start to get that experience about being a young woman in a male-dominated field and how it impacted my development and plans for the future.

“Contreras said she would recommend joining Code2College as a good way to be introduced to the technology field as a potential career field and pathway to attend college.

“It’s full of supportive and talented volunteers that will help you figure your way out — not only with your skills but also in your professional or soft skills,” she said. “They will teach you how to be more confident and or how to like, prepare for an interview, how to build a résumé. Basically, the coach wants you to be teaching them how to be a better programmer, but also a better professional.

”Contreras also recently received a “Future Engineer” Scholarship from Amazon, which provides her $40,000 to pay for college and a guaranteed paid internship with the tech giant. She said she doesn’t know exactly what she will pursue in her future career, but she is glad she has options.

“For college, I’m going to major in bioengineering and computer science at Rice University,” she said. “I just plan to get involved with those two fields. I am not sure whether I would like to be a software developer or an engineer or a doctor. So I will just use these four years to figure out and do as many internships as possible to figure out what I’m actually passionate about, and then I will pursue that.

” Matt Stephenson, Code2College’s chief executive officer, said he encourages other students to take advantage of the program’s benefits, which continue after graduation. “We continue to engage with college-going alumni from Akins through job placement opportunities, internship opportunities, and scholarship opportunities. If you’re thinking of applying to go to college, think no longer and just apply you won’t regret it.”

Izaak Mireles contributed to this story.