Mentor Monday: Meet Joey

In our opinion and the opinion of his 3rd-5th grade team, Joey Glover is a great mentor. "I like Joey, because he is funny!" 8-year old Alai'a told us. A skilled teacher, Joey has a unique ability to explain the most challenging computer science concepts to any age. For the past year, he has worked with our CS First elementary-age team meeting at UT Dallas' ATEC building and has succeeded in making coding approachable for his students. 

"He pushes them to make sure they understand the concepts presented in the CS First videos, and to go further, if they want," said his fellow mentor Stella Lin.

Meet Joey...

How did you become interested in tech and programming?
I feel like I have always been interested in technology and programming, but I think one of my greatest inspirations was playing the old game Roller Coaster Tycoon.  It was just so magical to build cool rides and incredible to see all the people interacting together in the park, and it was all done through a really clever program, so it got me very interested.

What did you study in college?
Electrical Engineering

What are you working on now?
I work as a software engineer at Raytheon in the Identity Services department.  I am currently working on updating our development processes to the 21st century and coding various back end services to help other internal businesses interact with LDAP.

What have you gained from being a mentor? What was your most memorable moment while mentoring?
I really love to teach, so I've gained a place to be able to teach others, and to teach something I am passionate about.  My most memorable moment was when we were creating a platforming game and one of the students was spamming the screen with one of the sprites.  It was pretty hilarious, but kinda you had to be there. 

Is there anything that you wish you could tell your younger self about coding?  
Don't be content with speculating about something that could easily be researched.  In relation to coding, this means if some piece of software does something interesting, don't just speculate about how it might be done in code, but instead look and search and read about how it was done. 

Is there anything about our mission that really connects with you?  
The thing that connects with me the most is the idea that all students deserve the opportunity to learn computer science.  I believe the more freely we exchange ideas and information the more quickly society will get better.  We are not the owners of any information, and the more we spread the information the more refined it will become over time.

Mentor Monday: Meet Quang

Quang Tran is a lead software engineer at Flywheel Building Intelligence in Dallas. During the spring semester, he volunteered as a mentor with 3rd-5th grade students at the Wesley-Rankin Community Center.

Meet Quang...

How did you become interested in tech and programming?
I started learning programming back in my high school in Vietnam. I didn’t really like programming back then because students mainly studied to compete. We had to remember boring algorithms and always programmed in Pascal. Fast forward to college, I decided to give programming another chance and it worked out beautifully. I enjoyed creating programs that actually help people. Understanding the magic that makes the computer work and overcoming programming challenges were also fun.

What did you study in college?
I earned my bachelor degree in Computer Science from UT Dallas. I majored in Biochemistry but after the first semester, it was clear that I am not interested in theoretical work. I wanted a career track with more hands-on experience and quicker iteration cycle. That’s why I switched to Computer Science (partly because of my high school background) and stick with it ever since.

What are you working on now?
I am a software engineer for Flywheel Building Intelligence Inc. We are building a cloud-based platform that offers real-time people, energy, and building management service.

What have you gained from being a mentor? What was your most memorable moment while mentoring?
Being a mentor confirms my interest in teaching, especially teaching programming to kids. Funny enough, my most memorable moment doesn’t come while mentoring. It was when Robyn and Ben brought in the programmable robots. The kids were so excited and immediately started to play with the robots on their own. That’s when I understand how important it is to gamify and brainstorm interesting activities in order to attract the kids.

Is there anything that you wish you could tell your younger self about coding?
Being able to code something does not mean you should do it. You should always think about the big picture and align your work with the ultimate goal of the project. Your work must bring value to the product and your team.

Is there anything about our mission that really connects with you?
I always believe children are the future. Vietnam is a developing country. In order to reach its full potential, education and children must be the #1 investment. Bold Idea’s focus on developing and empowering young minds, especially through computer science - something related to my background, really resonates with my belief and personal interest.

Mentor Monday: Meet Stella

Editor's note: Stella Lin volunteers with Bold Idea's youngest students in our CS First program, which uses Google curriculum and the MIT Scratch platform. When she's not mentoring Bold Idea students, Stella is a program and project manager at Sprint. Read her journey below from the daughter of programmers to building macros in Excel and now Bold Idea.

Meet Stella...

By Stella Lin

Both of my parents were programmers. I remember playing with "punch cards" at my mom's office when I was growing up. She later tried to interest me in books on object-oriented programming in C, but I studied Economics in college. I didn't get the programming "bug" myself until I started working as a Financial Analyst and started to write my own "macros" to automate my reporting.

I decided to go back to school full-time to pursue a M.S. in M.I.S., but I found a job soon after through a consulting firm who offered to train me in the mainframe programming languages (like the ones my parents had worked with) that were in demand again during Y2K.  

I joined Sprint as a full-time employee after my contract ended, and was excited to use new middleware, which I later helped to rewrite in JAVA, to open up some of our mainframe programs to be accessed over the internet in my first development project after Y2K.

Fast forward a few years later, when my "Enterprise Web Solutions" team at Sprint was outsourced to IBM.  Instead of applying to be "rebadged" to IBM, I chose to stay at Sprint to work with my former "customers" on the business side and as an SME resource for the new IBM team.  

In many ways, I feel that this experience helped prepare me to be a CS First mentor because Google's curriculum has given the kids all the tools they need to complete the programs on their own, but they may sometimes need an "SME" to help point them in the right direction.

I really love seeing the kids' satisfaction when they are able to complete and run their programs in Scratch.  It reminds me of my first experiences building "macros" in Excel and Access, as opposed to reading about object-oriented programming concepts.

Open Positions on Bold Idea Board of Directors

Founded in 2015, Bold Idea is an education nonprofit based in Dallas that combines computer science, mentoring, and team-based learning to empower a diverse student population in Dallas and Collin Counties. Premised on the belief that computer science is foundational knowledge that ALL students need, Bold Idea's mission is to develop and empower young minds to execute their bold ideas as a team through the power of technology. Program participants learn computer science and 21st century skills through hands-on computing projects with support from trained, technical-skilled mentors.

Bold Idea's core educational programs, ideaSpark and CS First, serve boys and girls ages 8 - 16 of all demographics and socio-economic backgrounds. Delivered through both open-enrollment sessions and collaborations with schools and community centers, students learn and apply computer science skills via project-based learning. At the end of these after-school programs, students also develop skills in critical thinking, problem solving, teamwork and perseverance.

Board of Directors Recruitment
Bold Idea is a public charity with tax-exempt status under Section 501(c)(3) of the United States Internal Revenue Code. Bold Idea’s immediate governing and fund development responsibilities rely on the support of a separate Board of Directors. The Board supports the work of Bold Idea and provides mission-based leadership and strategic governance. While day-to-day operations are led by Bold Idea’s president, the Board-President relationship is a partnership, and the appropriate involvement of the Board is both critical and expected.

Specific Board Member responsibilities include:

 Leadership, governance and oversight

  • Serve as a trusted advisor to the President as s/he develops and implements Bold Idea’s strategic plan
  • Approve Bold Idea’s annual budget, audit/progress reports and material business decisions; being informed of, and meeting all, legal and fiduciary responsibilities
  • Represent Bold Idea to stakeholders; acting as an ambassador for the organization
  • Ensure Bold Idea’s commitment to a diverse board and staff that reflects the communities Bold Idea serves
  • Determine which programs are consistent with the organization’s mission and monitor their effectiveness
  • Contribute to an annual performance evaluation of the President
  • Assist the President and Board Chair in identifying and recruiting other Board Members
  • Partner with the Board Chair and other Board Members to ensure that board resolutions are carried out
  • Serve on committees or task forces and taking on special assignments

Fundraising
Board members will consider Bold Idea a philanthropic priority and make annual gifts that reflect that priority. So that Bold Idea can credibly solicit contributions from foundations, organizations and individuals, Bold Idea requires that 100 percent of members make an annual contribution that is commensurate with their capacity, but no less than $2,500.

Board terms/participation
Bold Idea’s Board Members serve a two-year term to be eligible for reappointment for one additional term. Board meetings are held bi-monthly and committee meetings will be held in coordination with full board meetings. Board Members are also expected to attend at least one program event during the year.

Qualifications
This is an extraordinary opportunity for an individual who is passionate about Bold Idea’s mission. Selected Board Members will have achieved leadership stature in business, philanthropy, education or the nonprofit sector. His/her accomplishments will allow him/her to attract other well-qualified, high-performing Board Members.

At this time, Bold Idea is seeking Board Members with specific experience in at least one of the following areas:

  • fund development
  • education
  • strategic planning
  • communications
  • marketing
  • budgeting
  • finance

Ideal candidates will have the following qualifications:

  • Extensive professional experience with significant executive leadership accomplishments in business, education, philanthropy or the nonprofit sector
  • A commitment to and understanding of Bold Idea’s beneficiaries, preferably based on experience
  • Savvy diplomatic skills and a natural affinity for cultivating relationships and persuading, convening, facilitating and building consensus among diverse individuals
  • Personal qualities of integrity, credibility and a passion for improving the lives of Bold Idea’s beneficiaries

Service on Bold Idea’s Board of Directors is without remuneration, except for administrative support, travel and accommodation costs in relation to Board Members’ duties.

Nomination Process
Submit your resume and one-page cover letter outlining interest and qualifications to Robyn Brown at robyn@boldidea.org.

Sponsor Spotlight: Alliance Data

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

ADSLOGO.jpg

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

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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.