Facebook shows teens that coding is cool

ByHeather Kelly

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Raquel Lucente’s parents always expected her to become a lawyer. When she went to work at a little company called Facebook they were completely confused.

“My parents asked, how are you going to work at a website?” said Lucente.

Now Lucente works to educate kids and parents alike about careers in technology as part of Facebook’s TechPrep program. Launched in 2015, TechPrep helps under-represented minority and low-income students learn about programming and the kinds of jobs they can pursue in tech.

“There’s a lack of awareness and a lack of exposure about jobs in this industry,” said Lucente.

On Wednesday, Facebook invited more than 100 students from nearby public schools to spend the day at F8, Facebook’s annual developer conference in San Jose California.

The students wandered the festival-like halls of the Convention Center, which Facebook had filled with colorful demos, free food, games and the latest VRtechnology. They took turns trying out Oculus VR headsets heard from San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo and Facebook execs Ime Archibong and Deb Liu. They even spent an hour learning to code, before breaking for ice cream.

Elena, a 15-year-old sophomore at KIPP San Jose Collegiate, got a taste for technology recently when she attended a hackathon at Berkeley, and was amazed at how much you could do by changing a few words of code. Elena doesn’t actually use Facebook — she said it’s where her parents are — but they are active on Instagram and Snapchat

Her school has a Girls Who Code chapter and offers an AP computer science course. Vice principal Michelle Verrochi hopes they’ll be able to offer programming classes to everyone in the near future.

TechPrep’s program is built to help any kids who don’t have access to traditional computer science classes. Its website has classes, in English and Spanish, that cater to different age groups, experience levels and learning styles.

Facebook hopes programs like this can help bring more diversity to tech, an area where Silicon Valley’s biggest companies still struggle. First it needs to convince kids that working in tech can be fun.

“I saw a lot of things you can do other than just sitting in an office computing,” said Celine, a student at KIPP. Now she just has to convince her parents.

“They told me to become a lawyer, but I like working with technology.”