A child cannot be what they do not see, so we opened a few eyes.
Dwolla hosted a dozen AP Computer Science students from Des Moines East High School on Monday, March 11. After a tour of our new office in downtown Des Moines, the students gathered in our community room for an hour-long panel discussion with members of Dwolla’s engineering and infosec teams.
Students asked about education, diversity in tech, stepping outside of their comfort zone and specific technical aspects of computer science.
Nancy Mwirotsi, the founder of Pi515—a nonprofit organization dedicated to teaching refugee and at-risk students in central Iowa about computer programming—helped organize the tour and said exposing high school students to potential careers in the tech industry is incredibly valuable to building a tech talent pipeline in the Midwest.
“AP Computer Science is a very difficult curriculum and they are learning this difficult curriculum without seeing how companies work,” Mwirotsi said. “So if we can get them to see these companies, that’s a win. We want—and need—to take these kids to more tech companies.”
See The Future
Tim Walljasper, the AP Computer Science instructor at East High School, called the tour “an awesome opportunity” for each student to see how an actual tech company operates.
He said there are two more classes that will be doing similar visits to other companies in central Iowa.
Walljasper said taking students out of the classroom and bringing them into an office really makes an impact.
“This gives kids a chance to see an actual workforce and what can happen for them if they put in the hard work,” Walljasper said. “It totally helps bringing the kids into an office, this was an awesome experience for them.”
Chiran Subdi, a senior at East High School, agreed with his teacher. He’s considering software engineering as a career but wanted to get an understanding of what his day-to-day life would be like.
“Coming here shows me what life could be like after school where I’m working and still learning,” Subdi said. “This place was pretty cool.”
Nayeli Nazarit and Haley Young are both seniors at East High School who participate in Pi515. Earlier this year, both were named winners of a National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT) Award after submitting a project. Each recipient receives scholarship, internship and networking opportunities—plus computing resources.
Nazarit said she thought the “open-office environment” was cool and Young thought she could “absolutely” see herself working at Dwolla—or working at a similar company—in the future.
“I really liked coming here and seeing what my future could look like,” Young, 18, said. “It helps to see what a career in computer science would look like.”
The students are in their second year of learning Java, Walljasper said. Students take an introductory course their junior year and can take the advanced course as seniors.
“We’re seeing several kids interested in exploring computer science after high school,” Walljasper said. “Most of these students aren’t able to get this kind of exposure to these types of offices, so this is a tangible example showing them that in a few years, this could be them. And all the more reason for them to keep working hard.”
As students prepare to apply for internships or full-time positions, Dwolla’s visitors listened to Nick Leeper, a lead software engineer and hiring manager, who said the two things he looks for in upcoming developers are aptitude and attitude.
“Do you have the right attitude to learn and do you have the ability to learn?” Leeper asks.
Kent Schlorff, a software engineer, said that while formal training is very valuable, just tinkering with technology is a great way to continue learning.
“You are unconsciously picking things up along the way,” Schlorff said. “Being curious is a good thing.”
Skyler Nesheim, Dwolla’s Vice President of Engineering, said the team believes it’s important to make investments back into the community, which has supported the company’s growth.
With this group of students, Nesheim said he was excited to talk with them about the technical requirements of the job.
He told the students he’s excited to continue building an internship program within the engineering team. The goal of the program is to help students refine their skills and processes to allow them to join any organization to make an impact.
“There’s an opportunity to make an impact at Dwolla,” Nesheim said. “Interns are a valuable piece of Dwolla’s culture, including new minds in our company brings fresh perspectives and a passion for learning. Internships at Dwolla can also lead to full time opportunities within the company.”
The students interacted in Dwolla’s community room, Lovelace, named for Ada Lovelace, the pioneering 19th-century mathematician who was one of the first people to recognize the full potential of a computing machine.
From a room named after someone from computer science’s past, the future of computer science looks bright.