Building a network of the future: a Q&A with two All Star Code alumni
Through education and network-building opportunities, All Star Code works to close opportunity gaps for African-American and Latino youth. We caught up with two recent alumni of the program to learn more.
From access to mentors to learning the basics of coding and design, many young African-American and Latino men considering careers in technology face an uphill climb.
That’s where All Star Code, a nonprofit organization that provides young men of color with the tools needed to succeed in the technology field, comes in. By offering intensive summer programs that teach the basics of programming, design, and entrepreneurship, All Star Code seeks to close opportunity gaps for African-American and Latino youth through education and network building. Each summer program concludes with Demo Day, when teams present the projects they’ve been working on to a panel of judges.
Founded in New York in 2013, All Star Code launched its first summer intensive program in Pittsburgh in 2017. We spoke with two alumni of that program who returned in 2018 as teaching fellows. Jerome McCree, 17, is a junior at Central Catholic High School, where Marcus Stevens, also 17, is a senior.
Can you walk me through your experience as a student during your first summer?
Jerome McCree (JM): The curriculum is basically a little of everything. How to make a website, how to make a game, how to make a database. It’s a wide range of things. So every week, we’d go on a site visit, a big company or a start-up. The first one was BNY Mellon’s Innovation Center, and we met programmers and software engineers. We visited Google.
I had zero coding experience going in, so it was a totally new venture for me. It was something I’d never really considered until I went into the program. I just dove head-first into this crazy summer intensive program and ended up loving it.
What was your Demo Day project?
JM: My dad has a friend who is a contractor and he did some work for a business and the owner of the business ended up not paying him. I thought, “That’s crazy.” So the app is to help ensure contractors get paid and help them find actual jobs.
MS: It’s called Dime. It’s a crime demographics and statistics website for future home buyers and concerned citizens. It was an interactive Google Maps API. We put icons in there that when you press them you can view information about home listings and the most recent crime updates.
Are you still working on the project?
JM: Yes. I participated in something CodeDay Pittsburgh where teams come up with a project, they have 24 hours to create a project of their own. Me and an All Star team came up with a game. We presented it and one of the judges came up to me afterward and said, “I remember your app from Demo Day. How about if I come in, help you get everything situated, your software and everything?” And today we still meet up every couple weeks to work on the app.
MS: I continued it a little with a Google after-school mentorship that [Pittsburgh area director] Sean Gray piloted for the first time last year, and then continued this year. So I got to work with Google software engineers, retrieving live data versus hand-picking data and putting it in manually, which is how we did it before.
Can you tell me about serving as a teaching fellow this past summer?
JM: As a teaching fellow I ended up seeing both sides. The big thing was that because All Star was founded in New York, we kind of tweak the curriculum to make it more understandable for students. A lot of kids in New York take computer science classes in schools, but Pittsburgh kids don’t.
I was able to help my community a little bit when it comes to minorities and computer science. There’s a big lack in technology fields. I was able to give back to All Star, too. And it helped a little bit with public speaking. It was kind of weird to stand up and be a teacher. But really exciting, too.
MS: I had no clue how difficult it would be as a teaching fellow and how different the student-to-teacher dynamic is. It helped me grow an appreciation for people who have that job on a daily basis, and I got to see the students grow on a personal basis.
How has this changed your outlook on your career?
JM: I think I still have the same outlook. My main thing is I want to be an entrepreneur. Maybe I could be a software engineer for a company, but I’m more into making products and making my own thing. For a lot of students, I think it changed them from saying, “I want to be in the NFL” to wanting to be in computer science.
MS: It totally changed my perspective in terms of my career. Coding is something I never would have considered. It turned out to be one of the most impactful summers of my life.
What kind of connections have you formed through All Star?
JM: Sean Gray has really helped with a lot of things. Through a program at the Small Business Development Center at the University of Pittsburgh, I learned about how to make a business plan and run a business. There was a TedX event where I was able to explain why you should go into technology. I got to attend a golf outing with a lot of minority business owners in Pittsburgh. There are just a plethora of opportunities that Sean has given me.
MS: For the past few years I’ve been able to go on a couple golf outings with Sean with various CEOs in the Pittsburgh area. I think having such a young face at these functions is kind of unusual to most people, so I think me and my peers have made a lasting impression. The people I’ve met really want to help me and my friends succeed in whatever we do. My network has expanded even more after these events. I’ve been able to speak at Google, Fox Chapel Golf Club, Pittsburgh Obama Academy of International Studies. I speak about what All Star has meant to me, how it provides opportunities to expand knowledge beyond the classroom and how it’s changed my life and a lot of my friends’ lives.
Published November 29, 2018