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Inspiring future tech leaders through education and empowerment

As a senior tech leader, many people ask me what led me to pursue a career in tech, and I can trace it back to the moment when I received my first computer at age 11. I had the opportunity as a child to spend time coding in a classroom setting, and although the technology platform was different then — we learned to program in BASIC on Apple IIe computers — it fueled my passion for computer science and sparked my interest in technology. 

We are consuming more technology than ever before, but many young people still aren’t taught how they can personally be a part of the field and how subject matters like science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) can open the door to new opportunities. Working with technology at such a young age shaped my future career and I know how important it is for me and others across the tech industry to pay it forward. 

Every young person I meet tells me about the impact they want to make in our world. They have a vision but need a roadmap.” says entrepreneur and creator, Never Settle Show, Mario Armstrong. “When we take the time to show students that STEM education and experience matters in their passions, they can directly see how their talents, knowledge and skills can inspire and support communities to grow, succeed and make the impact they want to achieve.”

Cynthia Sandoval

It’s important to empower students – and individuals – at any age to prepare them to succeed in the future workforce. Through Capital One’s Future Edge program, we are investing $150 million over five years to make our communities stronger and prepare more people for the jobs of the future. One way we do this is through our Capital One Coders program, which teaches middle school kids how to develop software — a critical skill for the jobs of today and tomorrow.

Below are four ways that programs like these are instrumental in providing educational opportunities to encourage more future tech leaders:

Giving students an opportunity to get ahead of the curve 

It’s important to help kids build tech skills that will not only help them succeed but inspire creativity. When individuals and organizations take the time to show students how technology works at an early age, it shows them how technology could help them achieve their own dreams. I was immediately drawn to the Coders program because I was taken back to when I was first exposed to technology and I instantly knew I wanted to do my part.

Michelle Young, a Capital One software engineer and Coders volunteer, also learned to code as a student and is now teaching middle-schoolers similar lessons. “I wasn’t exposed to coding until high school, making it difficult for me to grasp some of the concepts at first. But now, we’re giving these students the opportunity to get ahead of the curve and feel enthusiastic about something most people take for granted.”

Now more than ever, access to digital education and digital inclusion are essential to finding and staying in rewarding careers with companies looking for technical skills like mobile application development and software testing. Middle school is when students get exposed to concepts that form lasting impressions and end up turning into career aspirations. I’ve seen many kids benefit from having a place to show their talents; to grow; to learn and to be supported. 

Through Coders, students participate in one-day events or attend 10 weekly after school sessions with our associate volunteers, regardless of having any background in coding or not. 

Providing mentorship opportunities

The role of a mentor in a child’s life is incredibly valuable. Showing students a world of technology is important, but how we show them technology can shape how a student takes this information and uses it going forward. For some, it’s an experience that just might change the course of their education or professional journey. 

Our associates realize the importance of their role and the influence they have connecting students with technology through the program. Since the program’s creation in April 2014, more than 4,000 Capital One associates have volunteered for over 90,000 hours through a partnership with over 120 schools and nonprofit organizations, inspiring 15,000 students to consider futures in computer science. 

This impact is driven by mentors who acknowledge everyone learns differently and nothing beats seeing it in action. I’ve seen our volunteers sit side by side with the students to answer questions and make sure they’re comprehending the lessons in a way that matches their learning style. 

Armed with the basic principles of software development and the help of the MIT App Inventor learning platform, mentors help students build several apps together as a group, then students take on the challenge of coding their very own apps ranging from informative and educational to purely entertaining. For example, Trivia Traveler — an app to teach other students about various aspects around the world like countries and capitals. Through teamwork, problem solving and empowerment, students’ confidence starts to shine as they hone their new skills.

Growing confidence levels 

“I feel like my confidence has changed” says Jazlynn, a 7th grader who participated in the Coders program. “It makes me feel like I was smarter than I was before.” That’s exactly what the Coders program is all about. It gives students the opportunity to realize the potential that they already have by tapping into their own creativity and exposing them to technology — you can almost see the lightbulb switch on over their heads. 

Many of our communities are full of talented youth, but we need to make sure students of all privileges get to explore the same technology aspirations. Community-based programs make that possible.

“By the end of the semester, you can tell students have become aware of what it takes to build some of their favorite apps” says Young. “Most people see it as magic, but these kids have a new appreciation for the effort that goes into creating even simple applications.”

Celebrating what you learned

This month, we’re celebrating students across the country at our end of semester ceremonies where students showcase their apps. These culmination ceremonies bring students together with friends and family to celebrate their achievements.

“You can actually think ‘Hey, I did this! This is my invention!’” says Mikayla, a 6th grader when asked about creating her own app. My hope is that students like Mikayla leave the program inspired with new coding skills, new friends and really see themselves as future tech professionals. I often hear students say they are interested in a career in software engineering after participating in the program — and for me, that is the perfect culmination of every Coders event I attend. 

At Capital One, we believe that it’s particularly important for tech industry professionals to give back their skills and expertise to inspire and grow future tech leaders. We continue to invest time into local communities to help educate and inform people about technology and equip them with the tools to thrive in a digital economy. Together, we can work toward a world where every hopeful tech leader has the opportunity to succeed in the digital age. 

By Mindy Ferguson, Managing Vice President, Commercial Digital Channels, Capital One