Sponsor Spotlight: Alliance Data

We are proud to announce our Powered By sponsor for Demo Day Spring 2017 - Alliance Data


Based in Plano, Texas, Alliance Data consists of three businesses that together employ more than 17,000 associates at approximately 100 locations worldwide. Though you might not know the name, you may have seen what the company does. Alliance Data is the engine behind loyalty and marketing campaigns for more than 1,000 consumer-facing companies worldwide across all industries: retail, travel, pharmaceutical, financial services, auto, and more.

The company's data-driven insight enables it to build dynamic and creative loyalty marketing programs and strengthen and deepen relationships between its clients and their customers. In today’s changing-by-the-minute digital landscape, that’s more crucial than ever.

Community impact
Alliance Data actively invests in the community to create a stronger, more engaged workforce and a vibrant, more sustainable society.

At Bold Idea, we are excited to kick off our collaboration with Alliance Data this month. The company's support of our third Demo Day event will have a huge impact on the students we serve in the ideaSpark program!

Mentor Monday: Meet Brian

Brian Nguyen is a senior at Plano East Senior High School and is already making plans to study computer science and statistics in college. 

Each week Brian mentors ideaSpark students meeting at the Frisco Athletic Center, and we're lucky to have him on the team.

Meet Brian...

How did you become interested in tech and programming?
I became interested in technology and programming when my father bought me a computer for my birthday. Through tinkering with my computer and sometimes breaking my computer, I became interested in the information technology space and have continued to follow innovations in computer hardware. My first programming experience was during my sophomore year when my Scientific Research and Design teacher wanted us to complete a Javascript sequence on Khan Academy for more classroom funds. I was amazed in how simple line of code in an online code editor can animate a picture or create games with complex interactions. 

What are you working on now?
Currently, I am a researcher at the University of Texas at Dallas under the mentorship of Dr. Richard Golden. I am currently working on a system to reduce breast cancer misdiagnosis rates through machine learning algorithms. Hopefully, in the summer, I can publish my findings in a scientific journal. 

What have you gained from being a mentor? What was your most memorable moment while mentoring?
As a mentor, I was able to learn new programming languages such as HTML and CSS alongside the children. Mentoring taught me to appreciate my computer science teachers, as teaching computer science concepts to young children is difficult, and I have never realized the difficulty before joining Bold Idea. My most memorable moment was when the children, during break time, played with their food with each other. As the children were playing with their food, I was reminded of my myself when I was young, and it taught me to embrace my inner child.

Is there anything that you wish you could tell your younger self about coding?
I should’ve learned coding when I was younger. I had thought that coding was only for really smart people. There are plenty of communities and organizations dedicated to teaching children coding. If I was able to change my past, I would participate in programs like Bold Idea.  

Is there anything about our mission that really connects with you?
The universal aspect of the mission resonates with me because I believe that everyone should take a computer science course. Furthermore, the collaborative aspect of the mission appeals to me because my best and most fun work was with other people. Collaboration is a mainstay of human innovation, and we should foster a collaborative environment to improve our world.   

Mentor Monday: Meet Matt

Matt Dorsey mentors ideaSpark students this semester at our UT Dallas location. Just like the Jr. High students in our program, he started learning web development in his early teen years, so he's able to relate to their curiosity and motivation. Working from the AT&T Foundry in Plano, Matt is an applications developer for AT&T Partner Solutions.

Meet Matt...

How did you become interested in tech and programming?
When I was 13 my Dad brought home a copy of Front Page (WYSIWYG editor), which I used to make several websites. After a short while, I began looking through my websites’ source code which eventually got me writing raw HTML, CSS, and Javascript. I’d show my websites to my friends and word got around to my neighbors and business owners in the community who then hired me to build their websites. So it was a combination of curiosity and financial pull.

What did you study in college?
I earned my undergraduate degree in economics from UNT and a master’s degree in technology commercialization from UT Austin.  My part-time job as developer in college turned into a full-time job after graduation.

What are you working on now?
I work for AT&T Partner Solutions on the tools and technology team where I develop applications to assist collaborative efforts between our agents, solution providers and wholesale customers.

What have you gained from being a mentor? What was your most memorable moment while mentoring?
I discovered that I really enjoy teaching. My most memorable moment as a mentor (so far) was seeing one of the kids begin googling for developer knowledge that we hadn’t yet gone over as a class. He was really motivated.

Is there anything that you wish you could tell your younger self about coding?
I think it’s really important to work on a development team with experienced, senior level coders, the first couple of years into a programming career.  There are a lot of silo developer jobs out there that can make it difficult to become a better programmer because there’s no one around to critique your code or push you onto better technologies.  

Is there anything about our mission that really connects with you?
I really like Bold Idea’s emphasis on teamwork and collaboration.  The kids are able to create better quality projects faster and become better coders through these collaborative team efforts.

Mentor Monday: Meet Jay

Image uploaded from iOS (6).jpg

A long-time Bold Idea supporter, Jarriel Henderson joined our mentoring team this semester and works with Jr. High students at our Bottle Rocket site. Jarriel (Jay to the students) brings a passion for technology development to his role and is constantly pursuing his own DIY projects. We are very lucky he is now part of the Bold Idea family!

Meet Jay...


How did you become interested in tech and programming?
My school installed computers when I was in the 1st grade and I really enjoyed our lab time. As I got older, most of my time was spent at the library studying and learning about computers. I would often focus on learning what career would be smart to invest in; everything pointed to computers and technology. I love the barrier to entry with technology - doesn’t matter your background, all you need is patience and determination to succeed.

What did you study in college?
I studied Architecture and Civil Engineering at first, and then decided to pursue Interactive Media.

What are you working on now?
I work with Roger Wilco, a digital marketing agency focused on film production and live broadcasting.
I am working on a smart city tourism app.  After working in video and interactive media for a number of years, I’d like to create a connected TV app that helps urban communities explore their world through engaging stories and events tailored to their interests.

What have you gained from being a mentor? What was your most memorable moment while mentoring.
The one thing that I have gained from being a mentor is the joy of building relationships with the kids. I think that their curiosity along with creativity is contagious, and I always let them know that within this realm determination and patience is key. My most fond memory is working with students on their creative projects and sharing with them the art of problem solving and creativity. I think their curiosity is what fuels my own passion to teach.

Is there anything that you wish you could tell your younger self about coding?
I would tell my younger self to invest more time into DIY/Maker initiatives and get hands on with electronics. Taking things apart to see how they functioned, as well as finding a solid mentor within the Technical field.

Is there anything about our mission that really connects with you?
I love connecting with our future leaders of tomorrow. I had excellent teachers in my life who helped shaped my outlook on life. Bold Idea is helping craft and prepare our children for a digital and innovative world! I am just fortunate and happy to take part in this great initiative.

Conditions: A Computational Way to Make Decisions

We often want to be able to do things in our programs “conditionally.” We want to be able to say “if this thing is true, then do X, but if this other thing is true, then do Y.”

The if-then statement allows the program to branch off and execute one of two different blocks of code. The if-statement starts by evaluating a Boolean clause. If this clause evaluates to be TRUE, the block of code conditioned on this if-statement is executed. If an else-statement is present, it can provide another block of code to be executed if the statement evaluated is FALSE. That’s Boolean logic in simple terms - a continual evaluation of TRUE and FALSE.

If you stop to think about it, then you’d see that we do things conditionally every day. It’s spring here in north Texas, and we have crazy and unpredictable weather. When I wake up in the morning, I must check the weather if I'm going to be prepared. If it’s raining outside, then I take an umbrella, else I wear sunglasses.

Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic · Photograph of the Penn State college campus in the rain

Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic · Photograph of the Penn State college campus in the rain

Asking questions like a computer

As humans, we often make decisions based on a complex set of conditions, including the circumstances, our own preferences, past experience and even how we feel. When we write a program, we need to represent our decisions in ways a computer will understand.

We know now that the computer evaluates some statement (also called an expression) that can only be TRUE or FALSE. There is no assessment of a condition that evaluates “Banana,” for example. The result will determine which block of code the program will evaluate next.

The types of statements that a computer can evaluate as either TRUE or FALSE is also limited by the fact that information is stored in the computer as binary. As a result, most TRUE and FALSE statements you will use in your programs are comparing two values in the computer’s memory.

A good way to check if an expression evaluates to a Boolean is to stick the word ‘is’ in front of it and ask it a question. If it sounds like a yes or no question, then you know it’s a Boolean expression. Here are the most common types of comparisons:

____ is equal to _____

____ is not equal to _____

____ is greater than ____

____ is less than _____

____ is greater than or equal to ____

____ is less than or equal to____

It can take a little practice to convert a question you might ask as a human into a binary statement evaluated by a computer. Here are some examples:

Human question:  Is it lunch time yet?
Computer question: Is it 12:00 p.m.?

Human question: Is she old enough to drive?
Computer question: Is her age equal to or greater than 16?

Human question: Should we see this movie?
Computer questions: Is the number of seats left in the theater equal to or greater than 12? Is the number of stars for the movie greater than two? Is the movie genre equal to comedy?

Want to give it a try?

You can do this! Write a program that answers our last question above: What movie should we see?

Photo credit: Alamo Drafthouse Cinema

Photo credit: Alamo Drafthouse Cinema

Here’s the scenario: Our team, including our mentors, are going to the movies. We know what movies are showing, but how do we decide which movie to see? We want to see a movie we think everyone will enjoy, and we want to make sure there are enough seats available. We can make this decision easier if we answer some questions about each movie:

  • How many stars did the critics give it? If the movie is less than 3 stars, we don’t want to see it
  • What genre is it? Let’s pretend our favorite genre is super-hero movies. If the movie is our favorite genre, we’ll go see it no matter what the ratings are.
  • How many seats are available in the theater? If there aren’t enough seats for all of us, we don’t want to see it.

With a partner, create a program that help us answer these questions using Boolean expressions.

Get started:

  1. Visit http://boldidea.pencilcode.net/edit/which-movie, and copy the code into your own PencilCode account. To do this you click on the down-arrow next to “Save”, and click “Copy and Save As”.
  2. In the code you see an object, the movies object, and it holds all the movies that are showing this week. You will learn about objects more later. Under the object, you see a for loop with a write.movie block, which will display all of the movies in the movies object.
  3. To refer to the information in the objects, you only need to type the name of the object, period, and then the part inside the object. For example: If I want the name of the movie I type in movie.name or if I want the stars I type in movie.stars.
  4. Remember to use conditional statements and relational operators in order to get the output you want. First you might want to write out what type of movies you are listing first, for example superhero movies.
  5. Within the loop, add conditional if-statements to only write out the movies that match our criteria. You might need to nest one if statement inside another. You can also combine Boolean expressions into one line using “and”.

CHALLENGE: Try adding your own movies to the list. In text mode you can copy-and-paste a movie on a new line and change the variables.

Making decisions based upon information is an important part of what makes computers seem intelligent! With some practice, you can also get used to writing conditions that your programs can evaluate and execute.

Mentor Monday: Meet Avinash

Often Bold Idea's youngest mentors can be the most effective at inspiring and relating to our student teams. Avinash Damania, along with his friends and classmates at Plano Senior High School, Brian, Karthik and Rishabh, are already such accomplished coders and technology innovators at their young age. Seriously - it's impressive! 

We are so lucky to have them work alongside our younger students each week. Avinash is a huge inspiration to them in determination, curiosity and passion. We also can't wait to see where his path takes him next.

Meet Avinash...

How did you become interested in tech and programming?
I first coded robots in 5th grade PACE using the Lego Mindstorms series, and the competition we attended that year sparked my interest. Since then, I have learned Arduino and designed numerous machines and robots with that language.

Last summer, I interned in the Machine Programming and Electrical Assembly Department at Regal Research and Manufacturing, as part of the Plano Mayor's Summer Internship Program. We use the Mastercam CAD software to design and program G-code for the parts that will be fabricated by the machines.

This year, I learned how to program for the Raspberry Pi, enduring nonstop dad jokes from my father about it being an actual "raspberry pie" and that I should avoid eating it. Haha, thanks dad, very funny! Using the Raspberry Pi, I created a robot that utilizes self-camouflage, based on the technological principles of the Tower Infinity in South Korea. The robot learns to recognize and adapt to different terrains and lighting conditions over time by using machine learning algorithms.

What will you study college?
I’m a senior at Plano East in the IB Program, but I intend on majoring in Computer Science. I’m very lucky to have to choose between UT Austin, UC Berkeley, and Cornell University.

What are you working on now?
I’m currently doing research under Dr. Vincent Ng at UT Dallas in the areas of machine learning and computational linguistics. I won’t claim to understand anywhere near all of the stuff he works on, since most of it is extremely complex. However, I’ve been able to learn about neural networks and how they are used in Dr. Ng’s project on automated analysis of argument strength of student essays. (I hope he’s not evaluating this!)

What have you gained from being a mentor? What was your most memorable moment while mentoring?
As a mentor, I’ve probably learned as much from them as they have from me and the rest of our fantastic mentor group. Not only do I get to revisit the basics of a variety of languages and technology, but the students question everything in a way that has made me change my own approach to learning.

What was your most memorable moment while mentoring?
My most memorable moment this year illustrated that idea. Another mentor (Brian) and I were working with some of our students (Jack and Adam) on an ice cream shop website, and the code just wasn’t working. Eventually, Jack figured out what the error was, and I put my head down groaning while the kids laughed. I realized a student found an error that the mentor missed. It just serves to show that as a mentor, I have as much to learn from them as they do from us. That moment also epitomizes the collaborative nature of our Bold Idea programs as a whole.

Is there anything that you wish you could tell your younger self about coding?
I wish I could have told myself to start using the rubber duck method much earlier; it really does work wonders for me. If I can’t figure out what’s wrong with my program, I’ll pick up my rubber duck and walk it through my code, telling it out loud what each line is doing. Usually along the way I will realize my mistake and fix it right then and there. While I did play with rubber ducks in bubble baths as a kid, it could have doubled as my coding buddy, helping me catch my errors.

Is there anything about our mission that really connects with you?
I love how the mission statement includes the phrase "as a team." It suggests that no matter your age or skill, everyone contributes to the team effort, and the experience benefits everyone involved. The children certainly get to learn more about coding and feed their growing curiosities, but mentors and facilitators and the adults making this a reality all benefit as well.

A team endeavors together and reaps the rewards together, and I think that feeling of inclusion and achievement is paramount in someone's childhood. I’m honored and delighted to help spark the next generation of young minds who will further technology, while still working to do so myself. I know I was once in their shoes; I want to make sure I can show my gratitude to everyone who helped me learn how to code (my parents, friends, and teachers) by giving back and helping the students.

Binary: The language of machines

Have you ever wanted to communicate with a computer? Here is something you can start with:

01001000 01100101 01101100 01101100 01101111

That’s ‘Hello’ in binary, the language of machines. You will notice that the letters are represented using only ones and zeros. When computers represent information in only two ways, it’s called binary or Base 2. Everything that you see or hear on the computer - words, numbers, movies and even sound is stored using just those two numbers!

But why do we represent digital information in just two values?

If you’ve ever looked inside a computer, you would have seen that there are wires, hard drives, the motherboard and various ports. Wires carry information through the machine in the form of electricity. The two options that a computer uses with respect to this electrical information are "off" and "on” where "on" is a 1 and "off" is a zero. Often times the 1 is a "high" voltage, while the 0 is a "low" voltage or ground.  So, letters and numbers can be simply represented as a string of electrically pulsed ons and offs. 

Image source: Wikimedia Creative Commons

That theme of two options doesn't stop when the information gets to its destination. Computers also store information using binary, and binary isn't always off and on. Hard Disk Drives store information using magnetic positive and magnetic negative. DVDs store information as either reflective or non-reflective. Boolean logic (which we will review in a later post) uses true and false. Really any form of opposites can be used.

How do you suppose we can convert the things we store in a computer into binary?

Try It Yourself

Here are two hands-on activities that we use to teach numbers and letters written at binary. These activities will teach you how to send secret messages to your friends using exactly the same method as a computer.

Binary numbers

For this activity, you will need a set of five cards, as shown below, with dots on one side and nothing on the other. We used one-fourth of a poster board and drew on purple dots. The cards should be in the following order:

What do you notice about the number of dots on the cards? If you noticed that each card has twice as many dots as the card on the right, then you are correct!

How many dots would the next card have if we carried on to the left? That’s right - 32!

We can use these cards to make numbers by turning some of them face down and adding up the dots that are showing. When a binary number is not showing, it is represented by a zero. When it is showing, it is represented by a one. This is the binary number system.
Here is an example of 01001 or 9. What would 17 be in binary?

After trying this several times with the cards, you may see a pattern in how the cards flip. Each card flips half as often as the one to its right.

Each spot where you can have a binary option is called a “binary digit” - or “bit” for short. If we want to represent data with greater values - like 33 or 3,000, we just add more bits. 

Fun facts: 

  • A grouping of four bits is called a nibble. 
  • A grouping of eight bits is called a byte.
  • A grouping of 1,024 bites is a called a kilobyte.
  • A grouping of 1,048,576 bytes is called a megabyte.

*This activity and additional materials are from Computer Science Unplugged

Binary Bracelets (or keychains)

Our original binary example - Hello or 01001000 01100101 01101100 01101100 01101111 - uses letters in the English alphabet. In fact, every keystroke on your keyboard is represented in binary. 

In this activity, you will represent the letters in your first name - or your initials - in binary using any two colors of beads. We like to use Perler beads but any will do. You will also need some stretchy cord, scissors and a split ring if you plan to make a keychain. 


  • To start, decide which color will represent 1 and which color will represent 0.
  • Then, find the first letter of your first name in the binary alphabet below. 
  • Add the beads to a length of your stretchy cord that match the pattern of the squares next to the letter that you selected. (You’ll want to tie off an overhand knot at the end of your cord to keep the beads on the bracelet).
  • Follow the last step for the remaining letters of your name.
  • Tie off a final knot on your cord after the final bead. Wear it around your wrist as a bracelet or tie it onto a split ring to make a keychain. 
  • Share your bracelet with your classmates to see if they can figure out your letters.

talkSTEM PiDay 2017

Recently, we had a lot of fun meeting young students (and adults!) at talkSTEM’s Pi Day 2017 in the Dallas Arts District and encouraging them to try some binary. 

Mentor Monday: Meet Jane

What can we say about Jane Santa Cruz that will truly convey how much she's made an impact on Bold Idea? 

Though not a coder herself, Jane has contributed invaluable experience from her time with youth development programs. Much of our program content that focuses on building students' collaboration skills has come from Jane, including teambuilding activities. Her insight in the Question Formulation Technique has strengthened their critical thinking skill development and inspired their creative project planning. 

Whether it's mentoring at our Bottle Rocket site, training mentors or contributing to program design, we are truly grateful to have Jane on the Bold Idea team. Meet Jane...

How did you become interested in tech or programming?
I served with an AmeriCorps program called City Year as a full-time tutor and mentor with middle school students.  Our students needed extra support in reading and math but they likewise needed more opportunities to expand their knowledge base, including understanding more about technology.  

Because technology is such a fundamental part of our personal and professional lives now, our students should not only feel comfortable using it but likewise have a familiarly of how code is written, how apps are developed, and how to navigate different types of technology.  In this way, providing learning opportunities around coding and computer science are meaningful ways to close the achievement gap and ensure that students are building useful skills, learning how to collaborate effectively with others, and becoming more confident in themselves.

What did you study in college?
I majored in History and Spanish at Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas.

What are you working on now?
I’m currently working at HR&A Advisors, an urban development consulting firm that leads research and analysis, project planning, and general advisory on a range of city-related projects across the U.S. Our firm primarily focus on economic development and real estate advisory, but we’re always working on new and unique projects so it’s always interesting!

What have you gained from being a mentor? What was your most memorable moment while mentoring?
It’s always fun to see students grow over the course of a semester and become more confident in themselves and their coding skills.  It’s important for students to expand their problem-solving abilities while staying motivated and driven to address new challenges.  I appreciate how resilient our kids are and that they’re willing to explore, try things out, and even fail sometimes (which is good!).

Is there anything that you wish you could tell your younger self about coding?
Don’t be afraid to try new things!  Coding can be intimidating- you must learn a new language, new skills, and be willing to fail along the way.  It’s always ok ask questions and get help when you need it.  I still have a lot to learn about coding and app development but it’s been a fun process so far and I’m excited to continue learning. 

Is there anything about our mission that really connects with you?
I think that the teamwork aspect of Bold Idea’s mission resonates most closely with me.  I grew up playing lots of team sports in high school but teamwork extends far beyond just sports. Understanding how to work well with others, building positive relationships, learning how to ask for help, and appreciating the diversity of the people you’re working with are all crucial skills for living a happy, healthy, and fulfilling life.  

Mentor Monday: Meet Ruben

Start-up founder Ruben Izmailyan knows the power of technology to solve problems. His app, Budgit,  helps people make better spending decisions and save for what they care about.

For two semesters, Ruben has mentored with our CS First program at Rosemont Elementary in Dallas.

Meet Ruben...

How did you become interested in tech and programming?
I have been playing with computers and technology since I was about nine, but didn’t take my first programming class until high school. While I enjoyed the problem-solving aspect of coding, at the time I did not see myself pursuing a career in technology and switched to a humanities track when I went to college.

What did you study in college?
In college I majored in International Relations and Slavic Studies.  

What are you working on now?
I am working on a personal finance start-up.  After about seven years working for financial data companies serving businesses, I decided to start my own – one focused on helping people make better spending decisions and save for what they care about.  

What have you gained from being a mentor? What was your most memorable moment while mentoring?
Mentoring has been a great way to remember that at the end of the day, coding is solving puzzles – and that everyone can get better at it, especially if they’re having fun.  My most memorable moment mentoring was when a couple of my students first realized that changing a few characters of code made their website dramatically change colors.  They were amazed by that they could do something so visually impactful with a single keystroke.  I think they spent then next five minutes playing with color.  

Is there anything that you wish you could tell your younger self about coding?
Though I do not regret pursuing a humanities track in college, I often think about how much better of a developer I’d be if I had stuck with it, even as a hobby.  Fortunately, it’s never too late for anyone to get into (or return to) coding.  

Is there anything about our mission that really connects with you?
The best part of Bold Idea is that it gets people to leave their work bubbles and share their knowledge and, more importantly, enthusiasm for technology with young coders.  There’s something quite magical about seeing kids change their perceptions of computers from entertainment devices to creation machines.

Where to find us this spring

If you didn’t catch us at talkSTEM’s Pi Day 2017 in the Dallas Arts District, have no fear. Bold Idea is participating in more community events this spring - plus, offering a few of our own. Here is what we have planned so far:

With community partners

City of Frisco 25th Annual Easter Eggstravaganza. Ages 12 and under, and their families, are invited to a bring their Easter baskets to this 25th Annual event on the fields at Toyota Soccer Center, located behind Toyota Stadium on Main Street. There will be more than 80,000 Easter eggs up for grabs. Enjoy bounce houses, face painting and photos with the Easter bunny. Bold Idea will join other youth organizations and offer some hands-on activities for young students. We’ll be making binary bracelets and learning how to encode numbers in binary. Our team will also be available to share info on the next semester of CS First and ideaSpark.

    Microsoft YouthSpark Live. A special day-long event where more than 1,500 students in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area will get to learn about science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields — and have fun doing it. The event includes technical training, educational sessions, empowerment seminars, gaming sessions, music and entertainment, and giveaways. Bold Idea is leading the coding breakout classes in the afternoon. Learn more here.

    • When: Saturday, April 15; 9am-4pm
    • Where: Morton Meyerson Symphony, 2301 Flora St, Dallas
    • Cost: Free

    Bold Idea events

    Volunteer Social Hour. Bold Idea volunteers, and anyone interested in volunteering, is invited to our first Social Hour. If that’s you, come by to meet the rest of the team, share ideas from your program site, network about opportunities and grow your social circle.

    • When: Thursday, March 23; 7-10pm
    • Where: Eastwood’s, 3407 McKinney Ave, Dallas
    • Cost: Happy hour prices for drinks and food all night

    ideaSpark Demo Day. While gaining valuable public speaking experience, our students have an opportunity to share their creative technology projects with family and the community. It's a showcase of the incredible talent and hard work these young coders have put in across 14 weeks with their mentors and teams.

    • When: Saturday, May 13; 12-3pm
    • Where: Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, Richardson Heights Village, 100 S Central Expy, Richardson
    • Learn more: https://boldidea.org/demo-day