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Teaching valuable skills

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

Yvone Martínez, 14, spent her summer vacation building a website for her mother’s Mexican restaurant, Nena’s Food, as part of a free, eight-week boot camp for middle and high school students in Albuquerque’s South Valley.

Martínez was one of 26 teenagers who graduated on Monday from the Cultivating Coders’ summer course, which offered intensive, hands-on training in web and software development at El Camino Real Academy.

All the participants worked individually and in teams during the boot camp to build their own websites and apps, and on Monday, they showed their accomplishments to parents and community members in a graduation “Demo Day.”

“I decided to do a website for my mom, because she didn’t have one,” Martínez said after the event. “Many other restaurants have them, so why not us? She’s going to use it now to promote her business.”

With that first experience under her belt, Martínez said she now wants to apply her new-found coding skills to give back to the community by building more websites for small, cash-strapped businesses.

“I come from a family that’s always helping the community and I want to use the skills I learned to help more people,” Martínez said.

Cultivating Coders launched in 2015 as a for-profit mobile boot camp for aspiring web and software developers in under-served areas. It provides training for adults in rural areas and targeted urban zones who are often unable to attend or afford centralized, mainstream programs.

The company continues to grow its fee-based program, both here and in other states.

But in 2016, it also launched a nonprofit arm to offer under-served high school youths free training that can guide them into high-paying careers.

To date, more than 120 middle and high school students have graduated from its boot camps in Albuquerque, Española and Shiprock, said Cultivating Coders founder and CEO Charles Ashley III.

“In California, it costs $14,000 per person to attend this very same boot camp,” Ashley told Demo Day participants. “The skill set we’re teaching these kids is very valuable.”

Many public and private entities have provided financial support, with the latest boot camp paid for by grants from Public Service Co. of New Mexico and Facebook.

All student participants receive a free laptop, plus mentorship and assistance to further develop and apply their coding skills.

Graduates are encouraged to start after-school coding clubs for their peers.

Older students are also encouraged to pursue further training in college or other programs, such as Central New Mexico Community College’s Deep Dive Coding boot camp, said Chief Technology Officer Brandon Trebitowski.

“We’re partnering with Deep Dive Coding now to help students who are interested in a transition into that program,” Trebitowski said. “Other students have started consulting services on their own. Some of this summer’s graduates have already landed paying gigs while taking this class.”

Many of the websites built by students this summer are on a par with what junior software developers are routinely hired to do, said boot camp head instructor Joy Kaur.

“Those jobs start at $25 an hour,” Kaur told event participants. “It’s very impressive what these students have done.”

Apart from websites, students showed various apps they developed during the summer camp. That included a variety of computer games, such as a Pac-Man-like “Snake Game” where a roving serpent eats pellets on the screen, and an action-adventure game where the player tries to save the world from a virus.

Alejandro Vigil, 13, built a game that challenges players to build their own house if they get kicked out of their home, with a job feature to earn money and buy supplies.

“It’s kind of a life simulator,” he told the audience.

It was Vigil’s first time in a coding program.

“I really enjoyed it,” he told the Journal. “But making a good game is harder than it looks.”

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