We were excited to welcome Somerset Academy Davie students into our offices on Dec. 7 for our first day of Coding Careers in Action. In conjunction with the Hour of Code movement, our teams at Science4Us and VocabularySpellingCity invited local students from four Broward County Public Schools to visit our headquarters throughout December, where they will learn about the work we do, and discover more about careers in computer science, web design, coding, animation, and customer support. In exchange, our office felt brighter and newly invigorated by the curiosity and enthusiasm of the students.

And what a fun day it was! My name is Sam, and I’m a new employee here at VocabularySpellingCity and Science4Us. I was especially excited to experience this day as a group leader and attend all the stations, because I would be discovering new things right along with the kids.

At 10 a.m., the school bus arrived. The students bounded out and split into groups. I was happy to pair with a great group of 5th graders and their teacher, Mrs. Rivera.

Somerset students got a chance to show their silly side with props at the photo both, posing with VocabularySpellingCity mascot HangMouse and Science4Us mascot Sciefus.

“We’ll meet computer engineers, right? I really want to meet them!” One boy exclaimed between handfuls of Goldfish crackers.

“Yes, we will,” I assured. First we stopped at the photo booth to take group pictures with funny props and stuffed toy versions of our animated characters, Sciefus and HangMouse.

It was time to begin. I opened the door to our office, and watched the kids grow calm and quiet as they took in the professional environment. Their eyes widened as they navigated the maze of swivel chairs and monitors, amazed to see an office in real life.

“We’re going to walk by people on the phone with clients, so we have to stay very quiet!” I whispered, and they nodded seriously. Watching them tiptoe past my co-workers so carefully made me realize that just the experience of spending time in an office would leave a lasting impression. This visit enables them to visualize what their future job might look like, helping them understand that everything they’re learning now can one day potentially be turned into a career.

The first station we visited was Quality Assurance, which checks to make sure everything on the websites works correctly. The students took seats at our conference room table. Seeing these small kids sitting in the same big chairs normally inhabited by my co-workers and boss once again made me realize that the experience of being in an office and feeling that level of professionalism presented a special opportunity for them.

“Hello, everyone!” said station leader Alex Van Pelt. “Do any of you know what a bug is?”

The kids learned that a “bug,” in this context, is an error or flaw in a computer program. Alex explained that since our programs are game-based, he gets to spend a lot of time playing our online games to make sure that they are working properly.

“So you get to play computer games all day?” asked one boy. “I want that job!”

Alex asked students to examine a sample web page and find all the bugs. He showed them the corresponding test plan that he would use to systematically check the page and record his findings.

Alex explained that his job is like being a detective, and if they like doing detective work, they would love “QA.” Even better than that, his job makes him feel proud and gives him satisfaction because he plays such an active part in improving our products and helping our company.

As he told the kids, a recent study shows that the happiest job in the world is not a movie star or a sports player like they might think – it’s a Quality Assurance Engineer!

Patrice Dillard shows the kids how coding transforms any image.

Our next station was Web Design and Development. Patrice Dillard helped the kids think about the different things they must do to make a web page come to life, from building the page frame to designing its appearance.

Rather than lecturing, she used a program called Nearpod that linked her presentation to iPads spread across the table for the kids to use. The students could interact with her presentation by answering multiple choice questions and voting.

Patrice explained the functions of coding languages CSS, HTML, and JavaScript. (I learned new facts about them along with the kids!) She made a little yellow Minion appear on the iPad screens, and explained how she used those three programs to create it. She asked the kids  help her change the Minion, and they voted to change its body color blue.

Patrice explained that the computer won’t understand if she just types the word “blue.” Instead, Patrice said that the word for “blue” in CSS language is written as “#0000ff.”

Patrice pressed a few buttons, and the minion’s body turned from yellow to blue in the blink of an eye. The kids were amazed.

“What else should I do?” she asked.

“Change the teeth! Make them really BIG!”

Patrice typed in the code, and the minion’s teeth jutted out of its mouth like a rabbit. The kids burst into laughter.

“How do I do this myself?” a student asked. Patrice showed them a list of free coding programs for beginners written at the bottom of the pamphlets given to them to take home. Their teacher, Mrs. Rivera, reminded them that later in the year they were going to create a website as one of their big projects. The kids cheered.

While the kids laughed at the minion, the next station made them almost cry from laughter. It was Client Services with Dany Ramirez. The lesson began more seriously, with Dany teaching them about the importance of phone etiquette, and modeling how he begins and ends a call.

“I know it might sound crazy, but you actually have to smile while you’re on the phone. Even though the customer can’t see you, they can hear the smile in your voice,” he said, and I took a mental note to follow this advice if I ever need to take a call at our company!

“Who wants to volunteer as a client services agent?” Dany asked, and hands shot into the air. The first up was a student named Brody, who grinned as Dany gave him a headset and phone. Here is where the hilarity ensued: various members of our office called in pretending to be customers. The kids talked with “Moana” from the new Disney movie; “Gazelle,” the Zootopia pop star; and “Elsa.” from Frozen. Elsa was the first call:

“I’m trying to finish an assignment so I can go outside with Anna and build a snowman, but the activity keeps FREEZING on me!” The students erupted into laughter.

Stifling his giggles, Brody read from the script and asked politely, “Can you please provide me with your first and last name?”

“Of course.” Elsa replied. “My name is Elsa. And my last name? I don’t have one. I’m like Madonna,” she said, and now even the chaperones and I were cracking up.

Mrs. Rivera asked me, “Are those really people from your office? That’s hilarious!” Dany coached the students through each call, and although much laughter was had, the students learned a great deal about phone etiquette and what it’s like to work in client services.

Audio Technology and Talent with Tim Horvath and Nela Malary. The students filed into a corner office where a giant monitor and microphone were set up. Tim and Nela introduced themselves, and when Nela said she provides audio for games, word lists, and videos on our site, one student gasped, “So that’s why your voice sounds so familiar!”

Nela spoke into the microphone, and Tim showed how the sound appears as a wavelength on the screen. He pointed out that the wavelength forms peaks and valleys according to the pitch of her voice. He then showed students how he uses the audio software to alter Nela’s voice and make it sound like a chipmunk, or like she is inside of a cave.

Next, Tim and Nela showed a video of the voice actor who does the voice of Freddy, one of our animated game characters. The students were amazed to learn that the person behind the blue childlike creature in our games is actually a perfectly normal-sounding blonde woman with a special talent for changing her voice!

Finally, the kids got to try out audio for themselves. They each read a sentence into the microphone and then listened to their own voices played back. These recordings will be turned into word lists that they can access on VocabularySpellingCity. The kids will get to hear their own voices played on the site and practice vocabulary using something they helped create.

 

Our last stop was 3D Modeling with Bertrand Joseph. Students sat on the couch and chairs of our CEO’s office to watch Bertrand work his magic. He showed them how to make an ice-cream cone so realistic that the students’ only complaint of the day was that they wished they could grab it from the screen and eat it.

Bertrand kept them guessing at first about what he was making. On a black 3-D graph, he drew the outline of a cylinder. “What do you think it is?” He asked.

“An elevator!” shouted one student.

“A rocket ship!” said another.

Bertrand added more details to the cylinder, and asked again.

“A golf tee!” Someone guessed.

“A rocket ship!” the same student shouted again.

“He already said that wasn’t right!” his friend chided, and they both laughed.

Bertrand pressed the commands to fill in the lines with gray.

“Looks solid now – but not the right color or texture yet. You all ready for texturing?” he asked, and the kids practically jumped out of their seats, bursting to know what the object could possibly be.

Bertrand selected the texture he had prepared, and the cylinder turned light brown and gained a criss-cross pattern.

“AN ICE CREAM CONE!” the kids shouted triumphantly. We then had fun choosing ice cream flavors for the cone, and adding a cherry on top.

“There is one last step left. Watch this,” Bertrand said , and pressed the commands for “rendering.” The kids gasped in awe as the screen changed from a black grid to a realistic-looking horizon line with the ice cream shining in the center as though lit by the sun.

As a last fun thing, Bertrand changed the colors of the ice cream according to whatever flavor the kids could make up. The scoops changed to a bright green “pickle pistachio” flavor and a yellow “rubber ducky” flavor that the kids said would taste like soapy water. Bertrand laughed.

Sam Ligeti, second from left, with VocabularySpellingCity and Science4Us team.

“Good work,” he said. “3D modeling is all about being creative.”

The end of Coding Careers in Action Day had come. As we walked out of the office, the students tugged on my arm and asked if they could work here with me.

“I’ll need your resumes, please,” I joked.

“I want to come back here next year! And when I’m an adult too!” a student said.

I led my group out to the bus and waved goodbye, sad to see them go. Their presence livened up the whole office and made me see our company with fresh eyes. Everything felt new and exciting, from the rolling chairs in the conference room to the fancy microphones for audio. I felt like a kid again as I watched computer science turn minions blue and create “pickle pistachio” ice-cream.

Along with the kids, I felt both in awe of my co-workers and their skill with technology, and empowered by them to believe that with practice, I could master those skills too. The day showed that as powerful and complex as technology might seem, we can treat it simply as a tool that will help us complete our goals and have successful careers. The kids got to see that skill in technology can lead to all kinds of different fun and fulfilling careers in computer science.

Coding Careers in Action: Kids tried professional life, and I felt like a kid again.

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