Report Card: Customizing Our Women in Tech High School Trainee Program
September 11, 2018
2018 High School Trainee summer cohort
Over the last few years, our Women in Tech High School Trainee Program has seen a fair amount of changes and improvements, and this year was no different. This summer marked the fourth year that we’ve welcomed high school girls onto the LinkedIn campus to experience what it’s like to be an engineer. This year’s cohort enjoyed a more personalized curriculum and mentorship structure, in addition to all the awesome events and experiences our trainees have historically enjoyed throughout the program.
For context, our High School Trainee Program aims to inspire the next generation to study computer science and related fields by embedding students in a software engineering team for eight weeks. Combined with a focused fullstack curriculum, the program provides an interactive and immersive learning experience that is equal parts theory and practice.
In an effort to continue this positive trend, and to inspire more companies in the Valley and beyond to take up this mission, we want to share the perspectives of the mentors and trainees themselves. This year’s cohort was similar to 2017, in that not all students were initially interested in computer science, but were curious and willing to learn nonetheless. Seeing their change in mindset toward software engineering over the course of the eight weeks has been amazing and beautiful, and thanks in large part to great mentor-trainee relationships.
Suna and Eileen
Mentor Eileen (left) with Trainee Suna (right)
At the start of the program, Suna had just finished her sophomore year at Lincoln High School, and was interested in tinkering with web development. She was paired with Eileen Ho, a software engineer and former REACH apprentice, as her mentor and curriculum instructor. As a former teacher, Eileen was uniquely qualified for the task, helping not just Suna but all of our trainees learn about engineering, adding, “I loved that I was able to utilize some of my old experience as a teacher to mentor Suna and teach her about software engineering and new programming languages.”
Eileen quickly noticed generalized group lectures were not keeping every trainee engaged, and decided to create a more customized curriculum, tailored more to Suna’s interests. “I really wanted to give Suna an authentic experience of what it is like to be a software engineer,” Eileen said. “Technically, I wanted her to be able to start to gain enough programming knowledge so that she could build a project that she was proud of and could appreciate the freedom that learning to code could give her.” Eileen went on to add, “One of the reasons why I had never seriously considered software engineering as a career was because I really didn't know what it was like. I think it's amazing that our high school trainees can find out exactly what it's like to be a software engineer while they're so young.”
From the trainee side, when asked about her thoughts both before and after the program, Suna said, “I thought of [working at a tech company] as working in a box and sitting at a computer all day. But after seeing it, I know that I actually want to become an engineer. I didn’t have much experience in programming before but I learned so much...it is not too hard as long as you try hard and pay attention. After coming into this program and exploring the many careers available, I love math and problem solving. I now know I want to be a problem solver.”
Bresy and Quentin
Mentor Quentin (left) with Trainee Bresy (right)
Bresy joined the program after completing her freshman year at Eastside College Prep, and entered the program in the Software Engineering Apps track. She was paired with Quentin DCosta, a software engineer on our Careers team, as her mentor and instructor. Noticing that his mentee seemed more interested in the backend, and already knew some Python, Quentin shifted gears to cater more to Bresy’s interests in datastores and business logic.
Quentin helped keep Bresy engaged and saw a positive change in her perspective as the weeks went by, and ultimately expedited her through the technical curriculum. Quentin told us: “Bresy was very keen on problem solving and was quick to understand it as a big part of computer science. What impressed me was how Bresy was able to come up with an algorithm to merge different calendar meetings. These are questions normally asked in interviews for [full-time software engineers], and I have seen people struggle in solving them.” As Bresy put it, “My mentor said we didn’t have to follow the curriculum [exactly]. He gave me problem-solving exercises. I would figure them out, we’d talk about them, then talk about the code. I loved the problem solving and puzzle aspect.”
When asked about her experience in the program, Bresy said, “I was looking for a cool experience to see the inside of the business and career, but it’s different now that we have experienced it. I see how much I’ve grown, with the experience and the community. It taught me a lot as a student and a person. It was pretty difficult. Every day was learning something completely new. In future weeks, you see why you learned something a few weeks back, and how everything builds on each other. It built my confidence when hearing about code and software because I now know what people are talking about.”
A final thought from Quentin looking back at the overall program: “They were so confident and wanted to do big things. They never let the fact that they are so young and less technically sound come in the way of the ideas and ambitions.”
Natasha and Jieqing
Natasha presenting her work at our Trainee Show & Tell
Natasha, having just completed her sophomore year at Breakthrough Silicon Valley, was brought into the program under the Web Development track. Her program mentor and instructor was Jieqing Dai, a software engineer also on the Careers team. Natasha was not initially as keen on programming, but wanted to give it another try, stating “I wanted to do something outside my comfort zone. I already tried out CS last summer, but wanted to give it another go, as everything deserves a second chance. I’m glad that I went with my gut versus giving into the fear of it being too hard.”
Jieqing helped nurture Natasha’s budding interest in computer science by catering more to her interests, namely Java. Natasha wanted more time to study and process topics one-on-one, as opposed to pushing on to learn frontend/UI programming. Jieqing picked up on this, and provided a range of both teaching and letting Natasha explore on her own.
When asked to reflect on her experience, Natasha said, “The first thing I thought was that we would be sitting down at a desk and coding all day. Thought it may be boring. But it wasn’t like that. My mentor and I focused on Java only and I learned a lot. I’m really proud now that I understand what [the code] is doing and what it’s meant for. The process of calling another function to make another thing happen. My mentor taught me the basics, and then I understood how everything came together.”
Results from the 2018 cohort
Similar to previous years, the outcomes from this year’s cohort have been overwhelmingly positive.
Plans to study STEM in an undergraduate program:
Before the program: 80% Probably Yes/Definitely Yes; 70% Confident/Very Confident
After the program: 90% Probably Yes/Definitely Yes; 100% Confident/Very Confident
Plans to study computer science or information science in an undergraduate program:
Before the program: N/A
After the program: 100% Yes; 90% Confident/Very Confident
Interested in giving back and starting a High School Trainee Program at your company? Well you’re in luck! Last year, we open sourced the program, and the whole curriculum can be found on Github. Let us know how we can help, or work together to make the experience even better. We’ve already begun planning improvements for next year, and are always looking for mentors and volunteers, and of course partnering with more tech companies to roll this out throughout Silicon Valley!
Huge thanks to Aarthi Jayaram, Shalini Agarwal, Nicole Brunnett, and Kelsey White for helping throughout the summer; to Teresa Leija and Anthea Ip for recruiting; to Lisamarie Kelly, Yuin Ee, Erik Krogen, Abinav Sridhar, and Navina Ramesh for volunteering on events; and all our dedicated mentors: Eileen Ho, Quentin DCosta, Jieqing Dai, Curtis Seaton, Connie Chang, Marek Zwick, Raul Rivero, James Margatan, Alice Chang, Christian Mathiesen, and Sandeep Wali. We truly and literally could not have done this without you!