Illustration by Rose Jaffe
When Cassie Areff was a kid, she enjoyed spending time coding with her dad. "I liked making mini games in Scratch, and then I transitioned into programming my computer to play card games against me." Fast forward to today, Cassie is part of a cohort of students that just completed Google's Code Next, a free computer science education program for Black and Latinx high schoolers.
We recently took some time to talk to Cassie, as well as two other student engineers — Jelyse Williams and BrookeLynn Acevedo — to learn more about their experiences as coders and their plans for the future.
What is it like being a young woman in coding?
BrookeLynn: It's both isolating and empowering. It can be discouraging to look around and see you’re one of the only women — or the only woman — in the room. As you become more experienced, the number of women around you goes down. But it’s also something I’m proud of. I’m helping to close the gender gap in coding and showing others I’m not afraid to learn, and I hope other women will be inspired to do the same.
Jelyse: Knowing there are so few young women in code inspires me to try to get more young women interested. From every shortcut to every <br> (coded line break), knowing how to code is a fundamental skill. If more young women start to code, more diverse ideas and tools will be introduced that serve us.
What advice would you give to young women of color who are interested in careers in coding?
BrookeLynn: Don’t hesitate to apply for things you’re interested in — even if you have no experience or if you feel you have “no chance.” There are so many wonderful opportunities with STEM I missed out on because I was afraid to apply.
I wasn’t going to apply to Code Next because I thought I wasn’t qualified. Look at me now! Applying is scary, especially when you’re in the minority, but you just need to get out there and try.
Cassie: If you’re thinking about Code Next, join! It’s such an amazing opportunity to meet other students interested in computer science in a supportive environment, and learn things you aren’t usually taught in high school classes. The coaches and mentors are also amazing resources.
Also, never let imposter syndrome prevent you from pursuing something. Don’t underestimate your abilities! Take risks that help you to learn and grow. Find a supportive community in your classes and organizations. Finally, embrace your mistakes and failures because they allow you to improve, and push you to better understand the concepts you’re exploring.
Jelyse: Never give up. In this predominantly white, male field, we are needed. Representation matters, but what you do in this field matters even more. Go change the world in your own way, for the better!
What are you most proud of?
Jelyse: That I never gave up. When I started Code Next, I was seriously bad at code. It seemed like everyone around me was excelling, and I was not. At first, I didn't know how to voice my dilemmas, but my coaches helped me figure out how to ask for help and understand that we all learn at different paces.
BrookeLynn: I had never taken a “real” coding class before and had virtually no experience in coding or tech careers beforehand. There were a number of times where I struggled with Code Next and the material provided, but I fought through it and not only did the work, but I did it and understood it. That persistence fills me with pride.
What motivates you? What gets you excited?
Cassie: I’m always excited to learn and problem solve. I love discussing ideas with others, and synthesizing ideas to create solutions. I enjoy doing puzzles, and see code as an outlet to use logic to creatively solve problems.
BrookeLynn: My future is what gets me excited and motivated. There’s nothing more valuable than the present, so I am trying to preserve it while also thinking towards the future. I’m working really hard now so I can build a bright future and am able to pay back all those who have shown me kindness.
Jelyse: I want to inspire people to do things for the better. Working towards this goal, and hopefully inspiring others to do the same, gets me excited.
Code Next lit a fire within these young women and helped them advance their coding skills while providing a supportive community. Applications to be part of the next Code Next cohort are open now for any student entering 9-12 grade in the United States. For more information and to apply, visit Code Next.