MediaMath Do-Gooders: Teaching Coding In NYC High Schools

// 05.27.2015 // Culture

Colin MacKenzie, a developer on MediaMath’s API team, was at a conference with his teammate Adrian Frimpong last October when the presenter offered some unusual advice: instead of becoming an expert on a specific language or learning a new tool, developers should spend time strengthening their coding fundamentals. The best way to strengthen fundamentals, Colin thought, would be by teaching others how to code. Right there, in his conference seat, Colin searched “teach kids to code NYC,” found ScriptEd, and filled out a volunteer interest form. He pressed send and looked over at Adrian’s screen just in time to see Adrian submit the same exact form. Great minds think alike.

The two developers decided to approach their supervisor to make it a reality. The commitment would require volunteering off-site during work hours, and they expected that the proposal would be met with some resistance. To their surprise, their manager Ben Donohue, VP of Engineering, and Tom Craig, the Chief Information Officer, were all in favor the idea.

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ScriptEd students visit MediaMath HQ in Times Square, NYC. 

More than seven months later, the two developers are wrapping up their first school year as ScriptEd volunteer code instructors at City Polytechnic High School, where they lead a class that meets twice each week. Teaching HTML/CSS, Javascript, and JQuery, Colin and Adrian have helped the students build personal websites and simple programs like calculators, high-low number guessing games, and even a MadLibs Generator.

Adrian and Colin were attracted to the opportunity to teach young people to code because it felt like a substantial way to “pay it forward.” Both learned programming outside the traditional classroom (one in a developer boot camp, the other through online courses) and care deeply about open-source education. Adrian was particularly thrilled at the opportunity to use his skills in a way that put him face-to-face with the people that would benefit, which was unlike any of the volunteer work he’d done before: “Many volunteering opportunities I’ve had as a coder are limited outside of requests for pro-bono work. So ScriptEd’s mission statement happened to be the most community-oriented outreach in the NYC area.”

According to their mission, ScriptEd “equips students in under-resourced schools with the fundamental coding skills and professional experiences that together create access to careers in technology.” They operate in New York City schools at no charge to the schools or students, and take great care to keep their curricula inline with the current industry. Keeping in mind that 4 out of 5 STEM professionals know their career path before high school, they also place students in internships at technology companies, so that they can experience the industry firsthand. Since its founding in 2012, ScriptEd has grown to 13 schools across the New York City area, serving 300 students.

Many of the students in Adrian’s and Colin’s class do not have a computer at home, so the exposure that they receive to technical skills through ScriptEd has the potential to change what they pursue for their careers later in life. As Colin says, “It’s fun to be at that early stage – watching them realize they’ve got a knack for something that could become a hobby or a career.”

Adrian says he can already see the positive impact ScriptEd is having on students’ future careers. “We’re teaching a year one class, so we’ve taught them the skills to build basic interactive websites using HTML, CSS, and JavaScript…in year two, they’ll learn more advanced concepts in web development using jQuery, git, Github. Honestly, it’s possible for these students to be eligible for internships before graduating high school!”

The experience of volunteering has helped Adrian and Colin put their own daily lives into perspective. After their class of students visited MediaMath’s headquarters in Times Square Colin remarked, “Being in the startup world, you forget what aspects of the job are distinct. It was great to see the kids react to the parts of MediaMath I love (dry erase walls, bottomless cereal) and maybe those parts I’m a little more blasé about—we’re on the 21st floor, have free pens, located just steps away from eighteen people in Iron Man costumes.”

Adrian sums up his own highlight: “The best part is when they’d rather work on their projects than play around on YouTube or play games, which if you remember being in high school, is insane!”

Learn more about ScriptEd to see if you can volunteer or donate to help make opportunities like these available to more under-served high school students.

A Picture of Travis Barnes

TRAVIS BARNES

Travis Barnes is the Technology Communications Manager at MediaMath, where he helps the engineering teams communicate the massive challenges that they tackle to the rest of the world. When not in the office, he is exploring Brooklyn’s music scene or digging through the crates of his local record store.
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