10.12.2016Community

Photo Essay: Why I Became a Coder

By: Ross Oscar Knight
10 brilliant men and women breaking stereotypes in their professions.
Alicia Carr, 53, is an iOS mobile engineer and the CEO and founder of PEVO, an organization and mobile app that comprehensively educates victims of domestic violence on ways to stay safe. She’s the director of the Atlanta, Georgia branch of Women Who Code

We asked real students and professionals to share their stories about how they became coders and why they love computer engineering. Here, they share why they’re passionate about programming.

She inspires women of all ages to become coders

“In 2011, I was standing in line at the Apple Store to purchase an iPad. While waiting, I met a 16-year-old who makes apps. He told me he learned from watching video tutorials. I turned to my husband and told him I wanted to create apps, too. For a year, I studied iOS programming and then enrolled myself in a three-month developer’s boot camp. The process of working on my code was like an emotional roller coaster – I laughed and I cried, but I found support in my fellow programmers.

When I was learning to write apps, I noticed the lack of women in the classes and as teachers. I want to increase the number of women who code and to change the way we are portrayed in technology. That’s why I became director of Women Who Code. This group encourages women of all ages to collaborate and to teach one another programming. I feel like it’s never too late to figure out what you want to do in your life. I certainly did!”

Christian Cameron, 16, is a student at McKinley Senior High School, Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He’s built apps for small businesses to help them directly connect and process payments with customers, and is expanding his clientele this year.

His apps help small business owners reach their customers more easily

“Coding is not always easy. I’ve had hard times when the system shuts down and I couldn't finish anything, and I was mad. There are times when I make mistakes, and times when I’m happy I finally finished and can't stop telling other coders.

I’ve worked with two small business owners who wanted to make communicating with their clients easy. So I programmed a calendar for them and a menu of services. Now, the customers can book an appointment and even pay their bill using the apps I made. My classmates and even the small business owners were proud of our work. This year, I plan to make my own business to create apps for more people.”

Jamila Parham, 29, keeps the trains and buses running on time in Chicago. As a software development manager for the Chicago Transit Authority, she watches over the digital systems that control the city’s public transportation system.

She keeps traffic moving by managing public transit data systems

“Coders are perceived as white males; I am a woman of color which is the polar opposite of what the industry is used to. This in itself creates new challenges and road blocks when trying to advance your career. I make it my job to break barriers and challenge this stereotype on an everyday basis.

“I oversee the delivery of software development project solutions that make life easier and more interesting [for commuters]. I always think there is a better and more efficient way of accomplishing a goal — that’s the ultimate mindset of a coder. You can change the world with the stroke of a keyboard.”

Messiah Gardner, 18, is a student at Corliss High School in Chicago, Illinois. Along with a small group of students in Verizon Innovative Learning , the education initiative of the Verizon Foundation, she developed Nubian Ear, an app that allows musicians like Spike Rebel (pictured above on the right), to distribute music directly to online music stores while keeping more of their own profits.

She created an app so independent musicians can share their music with more fans

“Coding is an important part of my identity. I'm a fairly shy person, but when it’s something to do with coding, I come out of my shell and people look to me to be the leader. I want to be the person who can bring out what others can do, and the person who can pick up the pieces and and help with others’ weaknesses.

It was stressful to try to create [the app] in a matter of three weeks, but we didn't let that stop us. It was fun to work together and to create something that is beneficial to others. I like to see the smile that I can create on people’s faces when I can help them solve their problems.”

Krystal Cooper, 30, is a creative technologist and graduate student in Information Science at University of Illinois, in Chicago. She studies how people use cutting edge technology, the cultural implications of technology and how that's shaping our future

She brings history to life with augmented reality

“As a graduate student, I focus on culture, data science and visualization. I'm currently working on an augmented reality game application using historical census data. The goal is to be able to play through a historical event instead of simply watching it like a documentary. To accomplish this, I have to use a game engine and 3-D modeling software for architecture, historical data sets, animation and programming.

My research interests wouldn’t be possible without being passionate about code. It’s shaped my education and career path.”

James Hampton, 17, is a student at Corliss High School, Chicago, Illinois. He’s currently working with independent designer LaNissa Trice of Elle Brown Designs (pictured above on the left) to develop an online showcase and website to sell her work.

He’s making a website to help an independent fashion designer grow her label

“When I first started coding last year, it was extremely confusing. But I really enjoy it now. It's interesting to understand how a device actually works. I am using what I learned in school to program a new website for a very creative artist like me. It’s fun to see the effects of what I can do with coding, and for this website, I created a custom mosaic for the background.

While I am programming, I feel hyped about the different effects I create. I always suggest a colorful design and good fonts based on what I hear about my clients’ business ideas. I get to show my personality every time I code.”

Daniel Ruiz, 36, is an end-user service engineer in Queens, New York. He builds the computer infrastructure and networks, and provides IT support for the companies he works for.

He rebuilt an entire computer network when disaster struck

“I was always interested in the ins and outs of computer hardware. When I was growing up, my uncle had an audio equipment repair shop. I was always caught staring at him fixing things and I was amazed at the electronics. Working with computers seemed easy to me when I was in school, so I started learning programming languages when I was 14. I have built all of the computers I own.

My most enjoyable project came from a disaster. I got a call at 3 a.m. that condensation was detected in our server room at work. When I got to the office, it looked like Fourth of July fireworks. Within 48 hours, I had all of the new parts ordered and delivered. I reconfigured the entire computer network by myself.”

Tyree Morris, 15, is a student at Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School in the Bronx, New York. He’s recently learned the basics of programming and is enrolling in more coding classes during this school year.

He just learned to build apps, and next up, he wants to code a basketball video game

“I like technology. Anything to do with it. I like making it and designing it. For a long time, I thought about doing my own website. This year, I learned to code at my high school with Verizon Innovative Learning. We did all sorts of computer stuff using JavaScript. It took me a while before I could understand, but I was in a group with other students and we helped each other build apps. Once I learned how the programming went, I thought it was cool.

If I could do anything with coding, I would design my own sports game with me in it. It would be a basketball game. That would let me do two things I like at the same time. There are so many things I can do with programming on my computer, and I want to learn more this year at school.”

Bee Vo, 24, is a web developer in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He builds apps to help companies communicate better internally. A recent computer engineering graduate, he spent his senior year in college leading the development of a video game he designed.

He created his own video game and now builds software to help teams collaborate

“As a coder, I can create things that are brand new, that are seen as ‘magical’ by others. That is what I love the most about coding; to have the ability to create something useful or amazing. It really makes me passionate about my job.

Being able to reason and solve problems has always been an important part of my identity. Both skills are invaluable while coding as you are constantly faced with problem after problem. I really enjoy the sense of accomplishment when I can solve problems that I am faced with. I also love that coding allows me the chance to show off my creative side.”

Will Madison, 30, is a software engineer in Decatur, Georgia. He’s worked with big companies like Amazon and CBS to automate repetitive processes, which saves time and money for businesses and their employees.

His code changed how an entire online fabric business operated 

“My ability to write software at a high level, with a collaborative team, is a huge part of my identity. It's what I spend most of my time doing, and I love it dearly.

I learned to code at 18 years old, but I really didn't make large leaps in my proficiency until I was in the industry for a couple of years. I'm very proud of an internal coding project I worked on at an Amazon.com subsidiary, Fabric.com. Seeing how much that software enriched the work lives of the associates on the floor was very fulfilling.”

All of the people who shared their stories with us used coding in some form to pursue their passions and to benefit others. Verizon is helping to inspire a new generation of coders by building their skills in science, technology, engineering and math.

About the author(s): 
Ross Oscar Knight is an international photographer and speaker. Based in Atlanta, he serves on the board of WonderRoot and as co-director of the global diversity platform - Beautiful in Every Shade. Follow him on Instagram: @rossoscarknight