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interstellar space pirate extraordinaire •

My Experience with the Youth Tech Program

I've been wanting to write about the Santa Monica Youth Tech Program (YTP) for quite some time and what my experience was like as a participant in 2012 and now as a staff member. After searching for posts regarding YTP, all I could find were articles written by program partners and guest presenters.

I hope that an uncensored, unedited, and unofficial post will be beneficial to future participants. For that reason, I decided to post this on my personal blog because I would like to speak about my experience and thoughts without being interrupted or having my words rephrased by someone else.

Before I discuss my experience, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • For those of you who know me, I'm brutally honest when I can be; therefore, this post will be nothing but honest.
  • Even though I'm a staff member at the time of writing this post, everything I say are my own opinions and experiences that should not be treated as statements on behalf of YTP.

The very first thing I want to address is an extremely common misconception that I had as a participant and have heard from several participants during my time as a staff member. Even though the program has the word "technology" in the name, you should not go into the program thinking that all you will be focusing on and learning about is technology. YTP is a summer program where teams of participants will create start-ups, this means that all participants will learn the basics of business, graphic design, and web development. It's similar to college where you will have enough theoretical knowledge to continue your start-up but you can only learn so much without first-hand experience. If you are like me, who was expecting a programming bootcamp, then this program is definitely not for you.

  • For the ladies, Girls Who Code is an amazing program you should look at and definitely be a part of
  • For everyone, iD Tech Camps is another awesome program that I would have liked to join if I could have

Truthfully, if you're interested in the web development portion of the program, chances are you will just be learning the basics of HTML, CSS, and some JavaScript to build a website that looks like it works. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Time is extremely limited throughout the program, so it's shared between two other topics as well. This means you will be doing a lot of research and self-teaching.
  • Web dev presentations are taught at a pace where someone with no prior coding experience will be able to follow along. If you have prior experience, this will be too slow for you.
  • Building a fully functional back-end to the website will require a lot of self-teaching or prior knowledge because there is not enough time during the program to do both front-end and back-end development.

Even though I'm advertising and recommending other programs, I encourage you to read on before you decide to cross out YTP from your possible summer programs.

All throughout high school I dedicated time to teaching myself how to code and it was well worth it. In order to learn to code, I had to spend a lot of time in front of a screen and my parents weren't fond that I spent so much time on the computer "talking with strangers." I was called into my school's dean office one day and I was wondering what I had done this time to get in trouble but to my surprise, he was recommending this program to me. I had the misunderstanding that it was going to be an internship at City Hall regarding technology and so I applied and got accepted.

To my disappointment, it wasn't the coding or technology bootcamp I had imagined but it was definitely a great experience for me regardless. I was able to make some really great friends during the program and I actually learned some business concepts, which have now become common sense to me. I never thought I would have actually enjoyed a basic understanding about how businesses work, but I did. I can't do finance or write business plans, but I can definitely think of the direction a business should take and why that'd be the appropriate decision; I can now apply this knowledge to projects that I lead. I can also give feedback to my college classmates who really want to create the next Instagram but with triangular pictures instead of squares!

To this day, I am still the only participant who was able to write a fully functional website from scratch. In 2012, there weren't any web development lectures or teachers; all I had was a book I had checked out from the Santa Monica Public Library (which I still owe a late fee for...). I was only able to achieve this because I had prior experience with writing code and I made this program into my own bootcamp by dismissing the majority of business lectures and a lot of late nights. Even though my code for this website was horrendous, I was still able to impress a few web developers from the web development team at City Hall. One of these developers is now my mentor who has taught me an incredible amount and the other is now my manager. I would have never been able to work with them, let alone meet them, if it were not for this program. I simply cannot express my gratitude as words to accurately describe how amazing an opportunity I was able to get because of this program.

Going back to why I mentioned my parents not being fond of me being in front of a computer so much, it wasn't until after this program that other people praised me for my potential and knowledge that my parents actually believed that I was doing more than just wasting time on a computer. Shortly after, my parents researched average yearly income for developers and suffice to say, they supported me fully after that.

The program is still very young and will require some time to mature; after all, it just barely completed its 5th year on July 21st, 2016. At this point, the program is run solely by alumni with a few staff members being the original founders of the program; this is both really impressive and harmful. The reason I believe it's become harmful is because I feel the program has reached a plateau of innovation where change is now frowned upon because "it's always been done like this" and the alumni writing the curriculum for the program are heavily influenced by prior years. I believe a fresh pair of eyes would greatly benefit the program making it better for next year's participants. For example, it's now my 3rd year writing the web development curriculum from scratch because I have not been satisfied with it previously. While this year's curriculum was much better than prior years, I was not satisfied with how it was planned out because subconsciously, I still mistakenly treat YTP as a coding bootcamp. I have requested that someone else write the curriculum for next year but to my dismay, my curriculum for this year has been saved in the staff archive so it can be "used as a reference, if necessary."

As I mentioned, the program has become very set on its ways and change won't come about easily. If you plan on joining this program, be careful with what category you place yourself under: business, development, or graphic design. There have been several participants who have chosen a category on a whim and have come to regret their decision because they chose a category they are not interested in. The teams are chosen based on the interests you specified and what presentations you participate in during the first week; once you've classified yourself there's no going back. There have been several participants who became really interested in web development after they experienced the first few lectures but they had to continue working on the business tasks assigned to them. By not allowing participants to switch their roles, we are ensuring that a team is not dominated by all business people, for example. While I agree with this policy, it does affect morale and lessen productivity, which isn't something I would want for a summer program intended to be a fun learning experience.

If you're going to take away anything from this post, I hope it's that if you're going to go into this program, you should expect that you will be learning a little bit of business, graphic design, and web dev regardless of your preference or how boring a specific topic may be. In other words, even though you are in love with business you will still need to sit through coding and business lessons; hey, you never know what you'll find interesting.

ytp, youthtech, youth tech program, santa monica