Whitney Houston famously sang the words “I believe the children are our future,” and The LEAGUE of Amazing Programmers proudly carries this mantra in its initiative to introduce children from grades 5 to 12 to the tech industry. The after-school Java programming course equips these children with skills that can be applicable later on in their collegiate or professional careers.
Join us as Neal Bloom chats with The LEAGUE of Amazing Programmers Executive Director, Sarah Tuakli Cooper, about her journey with the non-profit organization and its bright students.
4:11 Sarah wasn’t always an educator, as she studied electronic composition in college, which encompassed recording sounds and dissecting the origins of such sounds. Her intrigue with computer science stemmed from her interest in art, more so than from technical interest. From there, she went on to teach music technology - a course detailing computer composition and sound design - to freshmen at Kingston University in the UK.
6:01 Twenty years later, married and with kids, Sarah and her family moved to San Diego, and recently became a US citizen. While looking for ways to volunteer, she came across The LEAGUE and learned of the organization’s need for someone to help them get set up on Salesforce. After finishing her work as a volunteer, Sarah returned to the school as an operations manager in 2018. Creating a network of intelligent, driven children continues to motivate Sarah, who preaches the importance of “kids to not only be consumers of digital content but to also have a sense of agency.” In 2019, she took over as Executive Director and has been going strong ever since.
11:58 Sarah takes us through the children’s experience in joining the organization. Kids as young as 10 years old undergo an hour-and-a-half-long workshops, working through various programming tasks at their own pace, and will typically branch off to work on their own projects. Collaboration occurs not only between the students themselves but also between the volunteer teachers and their students. This cooperation is incredibly beneficial, as it encourages student-mentor relationships and sets kids up for success in future industry work.
15:07 Sarah discusses impacts, both positive and negative, that the pandemic has had on business norms. The shift to online courses was almost immediate, with curriculum being held online, code being created online, and group work being conducted - you guessed it - online. One of the biggest struggles proved to be providing for the kids who didn’t have access to digital technology, adequate broadband access, or a sufficient space to work in at home. Volunteers used this as an opportunity to do whatever they could to alleviate such difficulties by personally catering to the needs of their students by providing access to WiFi, technology, and other necessities.
19:56 Each age has varying learning curves, so The LEAGUE’s primary purpose rests in providing these students with the lessons and computing skills that K-12 schools don’t necessarily teach - a norm Sarah hopes to change.
23:09 The LEAGUE uniquely approaches projects as work, instead of play. In the next five years, San Diego is pushing out far less programmers than needed for the growing workforce, so the participation of more tech-savvy students and companies in the program is integral to support the success of the San Diego tech ecosystem. There are already various companies that offer internships to the program’s promising students and volunteers who come in to impart programming skills to the children.
32:30 Over the next few years, The LEAGUE aims to grow from 450 students to 2,000. Sarah also hopes to shift the ratio of girls to boys from 30:70 to 50:50 as well as increase the number of under-resourced children who participate in the program.
Sarah’s favorite local tacos:
Hilberto’s in El Cajon
Authentic tacos in Valle de Guadalupe, Mexico
Connect with Sarah:
Keep up with The LEAGUE of Amazing Programmers:
Thanks to our partners at Cox Business for their support in enabling us to grow the San Diego ecosystem.