This blog post was written by Microsoft employee Maria Mendiburo as part of the Humans of IT Guest Blogger series. Maria shares about her personal journey in tech, and giving back to her local community via the Microsoft TEALS program.
What I love the most about volunteering for the Microsoft TEALS program is the opportunity to help a school launch the type of computer science education program that I wish existed back when I was a student.
My high school didn’t have a computer science program, and thanks to 90’s pop culture classics like Office Space, my image of a computer scientist was a middle-aged, white male with terrible fashion sense, no social skills, and no hobbies other than playing video games. I was also convinced that computer scientists all hated their jobs and were just one stolen stapler away from starting an office fire. I didn't identify with those stereotypes, so I didn't try to learn to code until I was in my 30's.
And once I started learning, I quickly realized how important it is to have a strong community of support to be able to progress from the point where you can write a few lines of working code to the point where you understand the complicated systems that enable modern technologies.
I learned the fundamentals of computer science at a coding academy for women in San Francisco called Hackbright Academy. It has an amazing and supportive community of full-time instructors with deep subject matter expertise and a huge network of volunteers that work full-time in the technology industry. The volunteers do everything from mentoring students on a 1-to-1 basis, to leading practice whiteboarding sessions, to hosting guest lectures about their personal career journeys.
The connections I made at coding bootcamp eventually helped me land a spot in Microsoft’s LEAP apprenticeship program. LEAP’s mission is to recruit, develop, and train non-traditional talent for employability into the technology industry. Participating in LEAP gave me access to a second amazing community of support that helped me navigate not only my apprenticeship but also the subsequent interview process and transition to a full-time role as a technical program manager. So many different people wound up helping me learn and grow in such a short period of time that I started looking for a way to give back soon after I received my coveted blue badge.
I chose to volunteer for TEALS because I was a mathematics teacher and education researcher before I came to Microsoft, and I am well aware that what I described above about my experience at Hackbright and LEAP probably sounds like the definition of utopia to the average high school teacher. Schools struggle to find even one person who feels comfortable teaching computer science, much less a full instructional staff. Plus, having a robust network of volunteers sounds completely crazy.
And yet, that is what TEALS makes possible. When I joined TEALS, I was surprised to learn that the schools that participate in the program get support from a team of four volunteers (two in the "Teacher" role, and other two in the "Teacher Assistant", also known as the TA role) that take turns teaching and assisting students in a single class. For those who are worried about jumping right into a teaching role, you can consider starting out as a Teacher Assistant (TA) first before growing into a full-fledged Teacher role.
This four-person volunteer team setup ensures that TEALS volunteers can balance their teaching commitment with their full-time day jobs while still providing the level of support to help full-time classroom teachers ramp up. These classroom teachers can then focus on learning the content alongside students until they feel confident taking more responsibility in delivering lectures and leading class discussions. We all have different teaching styles and the volunteers have different areas of expertise within the technology industry, so we work together to figure out how to deliver a rich learning experience for students.
I value the relationships I built with the students who took our class during the past two years, but I value the relationship I have with the classroom teacher and other volunteers even more. We are a great team, and by working together, we launched a computer science program that has the potential to impact hundreds of students in the years to come. Now that I know the ones who choose to pursue careers in the tech industry are unlikely to wind up hating their jobs or burning down an office building over a stolen stapler, I look forward to getting back to the classroom next fall!
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