Volunteers from tech competitors grow new generation of computer scientists

Minh T. Nguyen

Minh T. Nguyen is a senior software engineer at Google in New York, and he also volunteers at Frederick Douglass Academy in a TEALS AP computer science classroom. TEALS, a grassroots program supported by Microsoft Philanthropies, has brought tech professionals into the Harlem high school to teach the AP curriculum, train the classroom teacher and ultimately establish a sustainable computer science program. Volunteers from more than 200 companies nationwide have come together to bring STEM opportunities to students who otherwise would not have the chance to learn computer science.

Here, Nguyen shares how TEALS is helping close the gender and diversity gaps in computer science. Learn more about how to volunteer with TEALS here.

One Saturday while I was taking the subway home, I bumped into one of my students from the TEALS AP computer science class that I have been volunteering to teach. For the next several stops, we chatted about the program and her plans after high school. She told me how much she likes the computer science program, and that she wanted to go to MIT.

“Good for you!” I told her. “I really want you to do that.”

This is a young woman from an underserved community who wants to go into computer science. Her aspirations are inspiring, and the tech industry needs more people like her.

The software industry is unfortunately not as diverse as it should be. As a senior software engineer at a Fortune 50 company in New York City, I conduct a lot of job interviews and it worries me to see that there exist large gender and racial disparities, from the applicant pool to the hired workforce. Many tech companies realize this and have established programs to diversify the workforce. Bridging the gender and racial gap is not something companies do because it’s politically correct, but because it leads to better decisions, better teams and better products. However, there is also an urgent need to address these disparities earlier in the pipeline, when students are still exploring their career options. That’s why I got involved with TEALS.

At first I was concerned about the commitment. I teach two days a week, requiring me to wake up at 6:45am to take a bus and a subway train to the school. In addition, I also have to prepare for class the days before. But at the end of the day, I think it’s well worth it: I’m making a real difference.

I like that the goal of TEALS is to exit out of the school after two years once the classroom teacher is able to teach the class on his or her own. Volunteers for TEALS not only help the students in the class take the AP exam and spark their interest in computer science, we also aim to empower teachers who may not have the computer science knowledge and skills in the beginning, but will be able teach the class on their own.

I am very excited to see software engineers from different companies coming together to advance computer science education. A lot of us in the technology field are very privileged to be able to earn a high salary for doing something we love and enjoy. However, not everyone has had the same opportunities we had. If you enjoy your work and agree with me that the lack of diversity in technology is having a detrimental effect on the workforce (see my other article on this), I strongly encourage you to volunteer with TEALS.

It’s a win-win-win situation. The students win because TEALS opens up new careers for them. The teachers win because TEALS advances their career. As a volunteer, you win because you learn a lot about public speaking—in particular, how to be a better teacher and mentor. (TEALS had me go through two very useful and insightful weekends of training on this.) Hopefully in the near future, the software industry will also win by gaining a more diverse workforce that is representative of its users.

Join me in creating a new generation of diverse computer scientists.

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