Every Coder Has a Story: Meet MaKayla and Ascension

 Bold Idea students Ascension (left) and MaKayla (right) are collaborating on a 3D game, which they're coding in Javascript with support from their mentor, Ben.

Bold Idea students Ascension (left) and MaKayla (right) are collaborating on a 3D game, which they're coding in Javascript with support from their mentor, Ben.

For 16 year-old MaKayla, computer science got really interesting once she realized it was about solving problems.
 
As a coder, she most enjoys fixing bugs in her program – and there can be lots of bugs, she points out. There is a joy in locating the one solution. “For me, it has to logically make sense – like in math when there’s a sign error. I can locate it, then go back and change it.”
 
The appeal of problem solving would have shocked even her two years ago. Coding seemed cool, but also a lot of work and trouble to perfect. “I saw it as lots of back and forth between typing and testing, fixing and more. Maybe not worth my time,” MaKayla adds.
 
After creating numerous projects, like a mobile app that promotes driving safety, problem solving has become the most worthwhile aspect of programming. It’s something new about herself that she discovered after joining Bold Idea.
 
MaKayla and her coding partner Ascension are Bold Idea’s oldest students – high schoolers who have been participating in Bold Idea programs for nearly two years. Every Saturday morning, they meet with their mentor Ben at Union, a coffee shop near SMU. The two are working together on a 3D game using the programming language Javascript.
 
During each weekly session the girls will alternate pair programming roles – the driver who types the code and the navigator who directs the coding. MaKayla and Ascension have found this process highly valuable for spotting errors while they are coding. A mistake is quickly caught by the second pair of eyes. “You get to talk through it as you’re doing it and help each other, which is what I like,” said MaKayla.
 
Other times it’s a miscommunication that will lead to the bug. The girls recently caught a spelling error. ‘Sin’ (the math term) was what Ascension said but MaKayla heard ‘sign’. The group gave a collective groan and chuckle, before declaring, “That’s fixed. What’s next?”
 
Ascension has also noticed her perception of computer science evolve. “When I first started Bold Idea, it was just going to coding on Saturday and coming back on the next Saturday,” she said. “But now, I’m more interested in it. I’m wanting to make an app or do more outside of Saturday.”
 
Her list of potential coding projects continues to grow each day. Among them are a mobile app horror game based on the recent movie It and a lifestyle app that rewards users with gift cards or monetary payment for reading books.
 
MaKayla agrees that what you’re creating can offer its own driving motivation. “Before, I thought of it as maybe just making games. But then I realized, especially last year when we made an app, that you can use what you learned to actually make a difference and build something that could possibly help other people, which is cool.”
 
Ascension is still considering which projects are most doable right now, but knows she’s closer to creating her ideas with help from her partner and mentor.
 
She remembers teachers in the past have tried introducing coding in the classroom, but often failed to spark an interest. “At my school, I didn’t like it. The only thing my teacher did was tell us to get on the website, sign in and work on it. Then, he would give us a grade on it. But he never really taught us about it or took the time. Here, I feel like it’s more hands on with people to show us how to do it, and it’s a different experience than at school.”
 
“It’s definitely different,” MaKayla agrees. “I feel like teachers traditionally talk at you rather than work with you. So it’s nice having a mentor who can do it with us, and we can discuss the issues together and do it at the same time.”
 
The girls point out that ‘mentor’ is the right way to describe the volunteer who helps through their coding projects.
 
The future is bright for both girls, who are now motivated to fix bugs and create the next great app that helps others. MaKayla is already planning a career in engineering, though she’s not sure what field of engineering yet.
 
Whatever MaKayla and Ascension pursue, one things for certain: Bold Idea will have their back.