Spotlight on: John Abreu

Photo Credit: John Abreu

John Abreu is an alumni of ASC 2 at Alley in 2016, where he won the AT&T Scholar Award. He was also a teaching fellow for ASC 3. He is currently a rising junior at Boston College.

How did you hear about the program?

I actually heard about it through another program I’m a part of, Prep for Prep. They told me about this Summer of Code thing with All Star Code, and I was pretty into computers–I taught my mom to use Microsoft Word–and it seemed like a pretty interesting program. The rest was history.

You were one of the earliest cohorts, in our second year. What was it like?

It was actually pretty interesting, because the program didn’t seem like it was in its infancy when I was in it. You would think that a program that only had one other year would still be figuring things out; I’ve been a part of other programs where you could tell that it wasn’t as good as it could be. But when I was at All Star Code, they had a lot of it figured out. The summer was very methodical and productive, and I got a lot out of it. Both technical in terms of coding skills and in terms of the mentors, and other interpersonal skills I learned.

What was it like being at Alley?

Being at Alley was absolutely fantastic. Of all the locations I’ve been to it’s probably my favorite, just because you’re not only immersed in this startup culture, you’ve got a number of other different perspectives you get exposed to. Being at Alley, every single day I’d meet a new founder of a completely different startup, and you learn so much from the people around there. In fact, one of the internships I had a year later was from one of the people I met at Alley. I met this guy at Alley and he was very interested in my growth as a computer scientist and we connected later on. I helped him out with his website, some web development before I came back as a teaching fellow.

How was teaching? To be on that end of the classroom?

It was definitely so fulfilling, so fun to be on the other side of it. When you’re in the program, you’re so inspired by what people are telling you: it’s possible for you to have a career in tech, this is what you need to learn, this is how to grow. Being on the other end of that was very humbling, especially seeing that I was on the other side just the summer before. I really enjoyed teaching, almost as much as I enjoyed being a student.

What are you up to these days?

I’m an intern at Facebook in Seattle. I got this internship because of a return offer from my previous internship. Last summer, I did Facebook University, which I found out about from an All Star Code newsletter. I’m a rising junior at Boston College, with two more years left.

In terms of what I do at school, I’m very involved in the hackathon community in general. I go to a lot of hackathons each year, and I founded my school’s hackathon, Hack the Heights. I also do a lot of film making and creative stuff when I’m not at the hackathons.

You’re a computer science major, right? Is the computer science department fairly diverse?

My school isn’t particularly diverse. I wasn’t all that struck by that part of my school, though, since my high school wasn’t particularly diverse either. I went to an independent private school in New York City. All Star Code is very much my main exposure to diversity in computer science. I don’t see it at my school a lot, but definitely in what I do in the computer science community at my school, I try to help out other people of color and women enter CS.

That mainly comes through in my hackathons, and motivating people to come participate in them. For me, hackathons have been a huge gateway for computer science. A lot of my internships, I like to think the reason I got them was because of my participation in hackathons. The projects I built through them, the skills I’ve gained through spending a whole weekend building one thing and learning it from scratch. At my school, I talk to a lot of people who are maybe interested in computer science but don’t think they’re cut out for it. I tell them to try the hackathon, build something for a weekend, and see what you get out of it.

Do you still talk to other people in your cohort?

Yeah, I’m still friends with a lot of people in my cohort. We meet up every once and a while, help each other out, both socially and in terms of computer science. It’s not uncommon for a friend of mine from All Star Code to hit me up and say “Hey, check out this project I made, tell me what you think, what do you think I could do better.” Or even going with other All Stars to hackathons.

It’s great to see how large the All Star Code community has become, especially when you go to a hackathon and see kids from ASC 3 and ASC 4 that you’ve never met before but are still a part of this family.

You were an AT&T scholar your year, right? Could you briefly describe what that was?

During my summer, AT&T awarded seven kids from my year for having particularly strong leadership skills, aptitude in computer science, high productivity, etc. They called it the AT&T Scholar Award. Afterwards, I got to help out at AT&T. I threw the first pitch out at a Yankees game one time…

You threw out the first pitch?

Yeah, that was totally surreal. I got a call from one of the people at All Star Code, and they said that AT&T reached out and wanted someone to throw out the first pitch, and I said sure. I went to Yankee Stadium, connected with an AT&T rep who was there, she led me through the basement, I went and threw the first pitch, got interviewed by a tech publication, and got to enjoy the rest of the game.

I feel like I would have been super nervous.

It was an abysmal pitch. I threw it straight to the ground.

That was one of the more… eccentric tech experiences I’ve ever been a part of. I still have trouble believing it sometimes.

Today is the first week of the Summer Intensive. Do you have any advice for the young men who are just now starting the program?

I think the biggest thing for me, that I wish someone had told me when I was first starting out at All Star Code, is to not get too caught up in trying to make the most technically complex final project, with machine learning and AR or whatever. Don’t try to rebuild the wheel. The biggest thing for me, what was most effective that summer, was to connect with people. Both with your fellow All Stars, and with the people you’re going to meet. The connections you make during the summer are the most valuable things you will get.