Meet Annie: a rising junior at Harvard studying History and Science with a focus in Medicine and Society along with a secondary (minor) in Computer Science. In the past, she interned at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard as a computational biologist. In this upcoming fall, she will be a course assistant for the Introduction to CS course at Harvard (CS50). At Harvard, she is involved in an organization called the Global Alliance for Medical Innovation that builds medical devices through machine learning programming in order to deploy to low-resources settings around the world. She hopes to go to medical school one day!
How did you get interested in coding?
I first became exposed to coding because of SEED (Saturday Engineering Enrichment and Discovery) Academy, which is a four-year academic enrichment program at MIT for high school students underrepresented in science and engineering fields. We were able to explore various topics every term such as Mechanical Engineering, Aeronautics, Robotics… and one day we started learning about Computer Science. I can’t say that it came naturally to me. In fact, I actually struggled immensely with it. Whenever we would have a mini-programming task, I would always be the last one finished… and sometimes I wouldn’t even finish at all! However, that intense struggle I faced was what kept bringing me back to coding. I admit, the learning curve was steep, but seeing what a few booleans, loops, and if statements could create amazed me. Learning how to take a complex problem, breaking it down into smaller, more feasible steps, and ultimately finding the most efficient way to solve it was a way of thinking that I soon began to develop. That started my coding journey, and I haven’t looked back since!
What inspires you about coding?
Coding is probably one of the most versatile skills one could have. It is incredibly interdisciplinary where my friends have had interests in computational neuroscience, data science, CS in applied mathematics, data and fashion… the opportunities are endless. It fascinates me to see how different fields overlap with CS, and it’s especially exciting to imagine how much of a positive impact CS can have on different industries. Focusing on the field of medicine, artificial intelligence is being leveraged to help diagnose patients in medical imaging services, and the future of coding is boundless.
What is your favorite project that you’ve worked on?
My favorite project that I’ve worked on is at the Broad Institute where I worked as part of the CMAP team in the Cancer Program to understand the relationship between genes, drugs, and diseases based on gene expression signatures. It was my first time employing the coding skills that I learned in the classroom to an actual research project. Having that experience further solidified my interest in CS and its applications to biology!
What do you ultimately want to do with your programming skills?
I hope to use my programming skills to solve problems that we face in the medical field. Especially in underserved areas, technology plays a critical role in health care delivery. By innovating low-cost technology to improve patient treatments in, hopefully that’ll be one step closer to bridging global health disparities.
Why are you passionate about computer science education?
Given that our world is becoming increasingly reliant on technology, computer science education is essential to help prepare students for their future. In other countries such as Estonia, CS is already part of a school’s core curriculum, whereas the U.S. still has a long way to go. As a female, it’s daunting to pursue a field that is largely dominated by men. There were a lot of doubts that crossed my mind when I declared a minor in computer science, but I know we are a lot more resilient than we initially think. That’s why I am passionate about teaching CS. Having been in those same shoes myself, I want to be there to help people take their first step into the world of CS.
Why did you decide to become an instructor for The Coding School?
For me, I would have never delved as deep as I have into computer science had it not been for the opportunities presented to me in high school. That’s why I think TCS’s programs such as codeConnects, which aims to provide CS opportunities for females, minorities, and low income students, are incredibly important. Providing computer science education to those who might not normally seek out these opportunities, equalizes the playing field through technological literacy.
What is your favorite memory with your student? How did they benefit from the program?
My favorite memory would have to be when my student showed me her albino gecko! I still laugh every time I think about that moment, because it’s just symbolic of the amazing relationship you build with your students. Not to mention, I am constantly blown away by how quickly my student learns as well as her ability to problem solve! For my student, it was her first time coding, so I am honored to have seen her grow within such a short period of time.
Why should students choose The Coding School?
For the same reason I decided to work with The Coding School — it’s mission. I am driven by the values TCS has established. My parents always instilled in me that even if someone robs me of everything, my knowledge is still the one thing that remains. TCS’s goal is to provide as many students as possible with the opportunity to pursue knowledge. Through substantial need-based financial aid, to personalized learning, to free speaker events, TCS’s altruistic mission shines through.
What advice do you have for students who are interested in pursuing a career in STEM?
Be open! I came into college thinking I would be concentrating in Biomedical Engineering, switched to Economics, then Anthropology, and now I’m at History of Science! Life takes you in different directions and it’s important to listen to your heart (as cheesy as that may sound) to ensure that you’re pursuing a subject that matters to you. It’s so easy to follow the same paths that so many people have tread before you, but don’t be afraid to go off the beaten path. Be open to new opportunities and experiences that may take you somewhere you would have never imagined seeing yourself. Have no regrets! There’s a learning opportunity in everything.
This is a part of The Coding School’s Instructor Spotlight series, in which we highlight our instructors doing cool work in tech.
Written by Victoria Chen, an undergraduate at Tufts University and an instructor for The Coding School.