Undiscovered: A Day Volunteering with Techtonica

Learning to program has had a lot of professional and personal benefits for me, but one of the greatest and most unexpected has been the opportunity to teach people who are new to programming. There are lots of opportunities to do this in the San Francisco Bay Area, but one of the most compelling is Techtonica, a new non-profit that partners with tech companies to offer free training and job placement to local women and non-binary femme adults.

On March 11, 2017, five awesome students came to a Techtonica one-day workshop, designed to introduce new programmers to Python. While they were all relatively new to programming, most had worked with HTML and CSS before — we also had a student who had programmed in COBOL in college, which was unexpected and awesome.

The session was held in the beautiful new facilities at St. Anthony’s in the Tenderloin. After a short welcome and introductions, we all went to the computer lab where students worked through the first few chapters of the Django Girls tutorial, learning the basics of strings, variables and lists in Python, plus working with the command line and a code editor.

Future software engineer on the left, me on the right

All were really eager to learn more about both programming and the tech industry, and laser focused on the tutorial. While they worked through the tutorial, the other volunteers and I hovered and waited for questions. Considering everyone was new to this, the subject matter is vast and the session was only a few hours long, I was completely floored by how thoughtful and awesome their questions were — for example, I don’t think most people would think to ask about the difference between a function and a method the first day they wrote Python.

At lunchtime, we chatted about tech roles and the industry over sandwiches and potato salad. As we talked about what I and the other volunteers did, and how to break into tech, it struck me how unfair it would be if our industry doesn’t give them a chance — every single student at St. Anthony’s that day was smart and driven. I hope they all keep building their skills and someone, sooner rather than later, will give them a chance and a job. With support and encouragement, any of them could be great programmers one day.

Those of us who are already in the tech industry can all do something to make that happen. If you are a programmer in the Bay Area, please put your hand up to help teach someone else what you know. Not only will it help you fall in love with programming again, you’ll maybe even foster some undiscovered talent.

Sign up to volunteer for Techtonica at https://techtonica.org/#howtohelp.