Some Plano students got a taste Thursday night of what it’s like to be a real coder. Surrounded by friends and family, they finally got to show off what they’ve been working on for the past 10 weeks.

Through Capital One’s Coders Program, software engineers mentored 58 middle school students from Plano’s Armstrong Middle School and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Collin County in Frisco. As mentors, they taught students how to develop their own apps for mobile Android devices. 

The students unveiled their apps Thursday in hopes of winning in one of four categories: Best Overall, Most User-Friendly, Most Creative and Most Technical Application. Winners received a $25 Amazon gift card, and in a surprise twist, all the students received a brand new Chromebook to continue their coding skills.

Vinod Chandrasekharan, director of software engineering at Capital One, was the emcee for the night. This is the third year for the Coders program, which is a small piece of a large company initiative, Future Edge. Over the next five years, Capital One hopes to invest $150 million into programs that develop skills for America’s upcoming digital economy.

As community parters with PISD and Boys and Girls Clubs, they were able to connect with these middle-schoolers during their formative years to prepare them for the next generation of jobs, Chandrasekharan said.

“Capital One is committed to garner the interest of students in technology. And MIT App Innovator is a good platform to help students create mobile apps, learn a little bit of coding and understand the concepts of software engineering,” he said.

Each team developed their app using MIT’s App Innovator, a block-based tool that allows students of all ages to start building apps. The Armstrong coders created all kinds of apps, like SP Canvas, that allowed users to draw pictures with six different colors and save their masterpieces right to their device. There was Pro-Hockey, a mobile air hockey game, and Find It, a timing game where users had to tap every image on the screen or else Pennywise, the terrifying clown from Stephen King’s “It,” would haunt them.

An all-girl team, Shoot It, created a shooting game with 50 levels. The objective was to shoot a ball into a San Antonio Spurs basket. In the first levels, it’s easy to make a bucket. But in each level, the baskets move faster, and it harder and harder to score. The coders – Arica Foster, Isabelle Fernandez, Abigail Diaz and Makayla Cline – walked away with the Most Technical award for their construction and execution.

Shoot It was originally supposed to be a maze, but making a maze took months, not the four weeks they had. Then they wanted to do a cat fashion line, but that also took more time and skill than they had at the time. But they all loved basketball, so Shoot It was the best of both worlds.

Makayla said it’s important to have confidence if you want to be a coder.

“Sometimes you can mess up and people can get mad, and you have to have strength to keep going,” she said. Abigail added, “you have to be a hard worker.”

As Anthony Cudzinovic, a Capital One software engineer, watched his mentees win their awards, he said, “I feel super proud. It boggles my mind. I’m really proud and really excited that so many people are interested in programming.”

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