Internship Introduces Programming to High School Students

Internship Introduces Programming to High School Students
Earlier this year, we met everyday with three juniors from a public international high school in New York City. All students were recent immigrants to the United States at varying stages of learning English. Our goal was for the students to acquire technical skills, explore career interests, and practice English in a professional setting.

Providing an Introduction to Programming

Throughout the nine-week internship, we provided an introduction to HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. Every school day we spent an hour introducing new programming topics or practicing a concept we had already covered. The students also spent two hours working on homework we developed for each lesson.

This internship provided the students a glimpse into what a possible career in software engineering could look like. We wanted to offer the support and insight that we would have wanted in high school. Opportunities like this equip students with knowledge that can help them make career decisions early and take control of their futures. Furthermore, if they choose to pursue a career in software development, it could even give them a head start.

Learning as Mentors

Not only was this a learning experience for the students, but it also taught us a lot about mentoring people with little or no experience in programming. During our first few weeks of preparing lessons, we realized that curriculum building was significantly more difficult than we had expected. Although we might understand concepts at a higher level, when teaching the topic, we had to get the tiny technical details correct too.

In addition to understanding concepts at a deeper level, we needed to be aware of our students’ diverse needs. By fostering an environment open to feedback, we were able to hear what we were doing well and what we needed to change. We created an open environment by agreeing on team norms that encouraged everyone to speak up, by meeting with each student one-on-one, and by having group retrospective meetings. Through conversations, we learned that HTML and CSS were more intuitive for the students. However, we needed to slow down once we started JavaScript because they needed more practice during class. After making these adjustments, students seemed to understand the material better and were more engaged in class.

Bringing 8th Light’s Values to the Software Community

In retrospect, our approach was shaped in many ways by 8th Light’s core values of humanity, education, and ownership. At 8th Light, development of our employees and members of our communities is a core principle. This internship took place during school hours which is also during our work hours. In order to take time away from client work, we took advantage of 8th Light’s Learning and Development (L&D) program. The program is a benefit that software developers and designers enjoy. We are able to spend up to 150 hours annually to learn something we are interested in and expand our career.

Teaching high school students might not seem relevant to software consulting, however, mentoring is an important part of our jobs. This experience will help us better mentor new colleagues and serve as better teammates on our client projects.

Not only are we committed to growing our own technologists, we are excited to see growth within our communities. This internship and our partnerships with diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives such as Coding Black Females and Code Nation is one way we support our communities. We hope that these long-term investments will help students from underrepresented backgrounds join the industry. Although online courses are great, nothing beats having a human mentor who can tailor the learning to each student and answer their questions (until AI can do that).