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For Baltimore City youth tech interns, it was a summer of code and careers

A chatbot that was built in two weeks. An internship program that came together in a few months. It was all on display as Baltimore Tracks, Code in the Schools, Pass IT On and YouthWorks wrapped up their six week summer work experience for Baltimore high schoolers.

It was a software summerfor a dozen Baltimore City high schoolers. (Screenshot)

When Pass IT On Executive Director Willie Sanders got together with SmartLogic Chief of Staff Michael Castagnola and started kicking around the idea of a high school internship program for Baltimore City students last spring, Sanders thought, “Maybe this will happen next year.”

After all, the city’s YouthWorks summer jobs program was only a couple of months from launching. But this being an effort that involved technologists and entrepreneurs, the local community was quick to take action. They signed up 10 companies via equity-focused workforce coalition Baltimore Tracks, got engaged with partners like the Mayor’s Office of Employment Development and computer science education org Code in the Schools, and launched a pilot of the internship program by May.

“To see it come together and see the support come in from organizations, government and the business community to make something like this happen in such a short amount of time and have it be as successful as it has been — I can’t wait to see it scale,” Sanders said.

He was speaking at event on Friday at a showcase to wrap up the six-week paid work experience, which featured a video showcase where the 12 students who interned demoed their work.

It provided a look a variety of technical experiences that youth got over the summer. They created websites at firms like venture studio Early Charm  and health IT company Audacious Inquiry. They got experience in backend programming with client sever applications at software product company TechSlice. They built chatbots at software consultancy Mind Over Machines and worked on augmented reality gaming with Balti Virtual.

These experiences are invaluable and a gateway to careers in tech that the companies, which also included local restaurant rewards app Flave, tech agency Mindgrub, healthcare analytics company Protenus and personality assessment company Traitify, are making available to the youth. The partners came together because they saw the value in giving youth an opportunity to experience a career in tech firsthand.

“There’s only so much you can teach in a classroom,” said Gretchen LeGrand, CEO of Code in the Schools. “There’s no replacement for the actual on-the-job work experience. I’ve seen, in each one of the young people who interned this summer, so much mind expansion.” They were saying, “Oh, this is what it’s like to work in software development,” LeGrand said.

Youth like Javon Gill, who interned at Mind Over Machines, had one such revelation.

Javon Gill presents what he learned during a summer tech internship. (Screenshot)

“Something that surprised me the most was simply how far technology has come and how advanced it was, to where a person like me that had no experience could create a full-fledged chatbot in like two weeks,” said Gill.

At Audacious Inquiry, Jodi Ayree developed skills with Javascript. With this experience complete, she is already looking to build on it.

A look at Jodi Ayree’s JavaScript work (Screenshot)

“My next step is to expand my knowledge on JavaScript and use it to get more internships, put out my resume and get a scholarship maybe,” said Ayree. “Or definitely [get a scholarship] because college debt is not in my future.”

Donte Kirby is a 2020-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation.

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