By Margaret King
When Kimberly Cruz heard that her high school was hosting free Program Your Future courses on iOS App Programming, it didn’t take her long to decide to sign up.
“I thought, why not?” said Kimberly, a sophomore at Patrick Henry High School in the Del Cerro neighborhood of San Diego. “I am interested in the development of apps, and I thought this would help me make my skills stronger.”
She’s glad she committed to the six-month program. She had been thinking about a career in either computer science or bioengineering. The Program Your Future courses, as well as an AP Computer Science class she is taking, have brought her goals into focus. “Now I am leaning toward computer programming,” she said.
Program Your Future offers free courses that allow students in grades 9-11 to master high-demand skills in fields ranging from programming and mechanical engineering to photo and video editing. The program is made possible by a partnership between UC San Diego Extension, community members and industry experts.
Students who complete 1-year programs receive a UC San Diego Extension certificate. Those who finish the shorter courses, like the one Kimberly is taking, get an award of completion.
Kimberly is enrolled in an iOS Swift Programming series specifically for Patrick Henry students. Students are learning how to program apps for Apple products and how to optimize the apps for different devices. Other Program Your Future courses are held at libraries and are open to students from around San Diego.
Kimberly is okay with giving up Saturday mornings for the classes. “One of my friends who takes the class, her mom makes her go,” Kimberly said. “But I chose to go, so I really don’t mind.”
Students have gone through exercises such as learning how to make a functioning “next” button and how to program the transitions between screens on an app.
Another project was re-creating an Apple health app. “It helps you track your calories,” Kimberly explained. “It can track what you eat and how many calories you need based on your weight and your height.”
One of Kimberly’s favorite projects was programming a game app. “We had to choose our own images to put in the game,” she said. “My game was ocean-themed. The background was the ocean, and the little characters were different ocean animals. That was fun because when it was done, we got to see our games work.”
That experience has given Kimberly an idea of what she might like to pursue next. “I would like to learn more about animation and programming video games or games on your phone,” she said.
At times Kimberly has found the pace of the class challenging. “Sometimes they go too fast,” she said. “I might get a bug in my code, and when we were done, I couldn’t figure out how to fix it.’
Overall, though, she finds the level appropriate. “The teacher takes time to explain things,” she noted. “I feel like I’m learning more and more about how to debug, and it makes me more confident. It’s not hard if you take the time to learn each thing.”
Most of the students in Kimberly’s Program Your Future courses are boys. And she is aware that women are underrepresented in the computer science workforce. But she doesn’t see her gender as a disadvantage. “I don’t feel like it’s tough being a girl in computer science,” she said. “When we’re coding, we do the same things that the boys do, and sometimes the boys don’t do it as well.”