A senior engineering manager at Bottle Rocket, William (Bill) Francis has mentored young coders since our ideaSpark program started in early 2016. Since that time, he has worked with student teams at our UT Dallas and Bottle Rocket locations. He even supported his mentee Audrey, age 11, as she published her mobile app 'Animal Rescue' on the Google Play Store - our first student to do so. (Download the app for free on the Play Store). We are honored to have this experienced software engineer with a passion for student innovation on our mentoring team. Meet Bill...
How did you become interested in technology or programming?
When I was 11, I decided I wanted to make my own video game. Upon investigating, I discovered doing so necessitated I learn programming. So I talked my parents into a TRS-80 under the premise it would be useful for bringing my grades up. It actually did kind of the opposite. In a few days I was hooked on programming and proceeded to stay up till the wee hours of the morning most school nights learning to code -- at least until my mom caught on. In the end though, it all worked out as I now make my living as a software engineer.
What did you study in college?
After graduating from high school, I joined the military. I spent six years as part of the Military Intelligence Brigade working on both software and hardware in places like Korea, Italy, and Germany. After the army I attended University of North Texas where I earned a degree in Information Science.
What are you working on now?
Presently I work on a video delivery app for big brands like NBC, Game Show Network, and the Dallas Cowboys. Some of the projects I've lead include the Chick-fil-A App, Coke's Freestyle App, BET, and Fox News.
What have you gained from being a mentor? What was your most memorable moment while mentoring?
For me, being a mentor has given me the opportunity to see in the students that same passion I once had for computer programming. Selfishly, its almost nostalgic for me -- a way to relive some of what to me as a child was a magic, life-shaping event.
One of the most memorable moments for me as a mentor was getting an email from a student's mother asking if I'd be available to meet for a session outside of the normal hours. Her daughter was really excited about and enjoying the app we were building and due to a conflict during the normal scheduled class period was afraid she wouldn't get the chance to finish it. It just so happened I was available and I was very pleased to be able to help a young person build something she was passionate about and proud of.
Is there anything that you wish you could tell your younger self about coding?
Take the time to dig in and learn as much as you can before banging out the code. Sometimes its hard because its easy to get excited about bringing your creation to life, but there is a lot of value in gaining a level of understanding before typing that first line of code.
Is there anything about the Bold Idea mission that really connects with you?
Coding is empowering regardless of age, race, or gender. I love the idea that I am able to help a young person leave a thumbprint on the world we all share. When I see that spark of an idea grow into a creation that ends up in the app store I can't help but be excited for the students.
We live in a world where at the click of a button a young person can make their app available for download to millions of people all around the globe! What could be more exciting than having even a small hand in the next generation of makers? I feel like the kids I get the honor of working with today, are some of the engineers that will grow up to shape tomorrow!