By Margaret King
Maxim Kondrashuk has an affinity for languages – both the spoken kind and the ones used to program computers. So he didn’t hesitate when he got a chance to learn a high-demand new coding language through UC San Diego Extension’s Futures program.
Maxim, a senior at Poway High School, is originally from Belarus. He speaks four languages, and he also has taught himself several coding languages. Futures iOS Programming courses allowed him to tackle Swift, the language used to program Apple devices.
“Swift is a language I didn’t know anything about, so I enjoyed learning about it,” he says. “It’s definitely in very high demand. Our instructor told us Swift is going to be the future of programming.”
Futures is made possible by a partnership between UC San Diego Extension, community members and industry experts. The program allows students in grades 9-12 to master skills needed for the jobs of the future. Courses are grouped under headings like Program Your Future for coding and Manage Your Future for business management.
Maxim has just finished a year-long series of five iOS Programming courses held on Sunday afternoons at Valencia Park/Malcolm X Library. Going forward, Futures will offer three-course programs lasting 8 to 9 months. Those who finish a program will get an award of completion and Extension credits. Students can apply for scholarships to cover course costs.
Maxim’s family came to the United States from the Eastern European nation of Belarus when he was 10. He quickly learned English and then gained proficiency in Spanish by taking classes in school. He also speaks Belarusian and Russian fluently.
Maxim’s programming education “has been mostly an independent thing using Khan Academy and online coding classes,” he says. “They teach you the basics, and I’ve also read a couple of books.”
Last year Maxim’s mom heard about the Futures programming classes and passed the information on to him. “I was like, ‘OK, cool, I’ll try that,’” he says.
In the early classes, students learned to program simple functions – creating buttons or a counter, for example, or changing background colors. Maxim found the courses more challenging as they went along.
“In the beginning, based on my background knowledge of programming, it was easy for me to do whatever we had to do,” he said. “But as the course progressed and we got down to the specifics of Swift, it was just like learning any new language – it took more effort.”
For a final project, students had to design an original app. Maxim got an idea for his app while studying for the SAT test.
On an online test prep site, he found an effective technique for studying vocabulary. “It’s done using notecards,” he explains. “You continuously split the cards into two decks and focus on the words you don’t know. I was interested in implementing a digital version of that.”
Maxim believes his app could help students improve their scores on the Essay and Reading portions of the SAT. And it could also help them strengthen their vocabulary in general.
Focusing on Swift was a good decision, Maxim says. “Swift is unique from other computer languages.” he notes. “I like the fact that as you write the code, you can see right away how it will look on an iOS device. I think that’s very cool, and that’s something a lot of other computer languages don’t have. It has an interface that’s simple to use, and it’s very robust – you can do anything with it.”
Maxim has managed to fit Futures courses into a busy schedule. He plays piano and takes part in ballroom dance competitions. He’s also cofounder of the Stocks and Finance Club at Poway High, and he works a food-service job. “After a while, you just get in the habit of making time for the Sunday classes,” he says.
Despite his focus on programming, Maxim has not decided what he wants to study in college. “There are just a lot of things that interest me – not only do I like techie stuff, but I also enjoy artistic subjects, like architecture and house remodeling,” he says.
“I’m interested in software engineering, and this program definitely opens up the horizons for me there,” he says. “But I want to see if there’s something else I might enjoy. I know I want to be an entrepreneur. Taking these courses can help me maybe start up my own company.”
Maxim would definitely encourage other students to take Futures classes. “Even if you’re a beginner, you can definitely succeed in it,” he says. “I think it’s a great opportunity to learn something that’s especially valuable in today’s world because it’s in tremendous demand.”