Describing Felicisimo Andrion as a typical fifth grader may actually offend him. This is made evident by the Windsor knotted tie he wears to school every day. He sports a techie D.J. look - button up and untucked collared shirt, dark jeans, sneakers, and black rimmed rectangular glasses.
Video games and technology are always on his mind. Felicisimo dreams of becoming a computer engineer, but he doesn’t want to work for anyone. He wants to be his own boss, taking on clients who need his expertise to build software and hardware for their companies and projects.
He already has a head start. While Felicisimo didn’t know how to program computers last year, things are different now. He joined an after school club at Mark Fine Elementary School in Las Vegas, which teaches kids computer programming skills.
"Kids are interested in computers and how they work. They want to learn but there's no place to start," said Colin Baldwin, software engineer and club leader. "I've heard kids say that they want to make games and have no idea what to do. I was a kid who wanted to make games and had no idea what to do. Having access to a club and professional is invaluable."
“He knows what he is doing,” Andrion adds bluntly in support of having a professional engineer lead the club.
Then he says he is impressed with Baldwin for being a paid software engineer. He also likes the fast paced learning style, which allows him to learn more in less time.
That isn’t to say that it is all serious. Baldwin "doesn't get upset when there is a failure in the coding." They have fun working through the challenges together.
Even more interesting, the club attracts students who do not dream of becoming computer engineers like Felicisimo. Technology is entertaining, as well as a path to many careers.
"People think that computer programmers are software engineers,” said Micah Lambeth, aero noise and propulsion lab test engineer at Boeing. “I don't work with software engineers, but everyone I work with has to be able to write code for their own software. You can't be an engineer without computer programming skills."
According to Lambeth, computer programming could be considered a basic skill for success, especially for anyone with a desire to work in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields.
Baldwin agrees, “In other professions they will have extra tools in their boxes to think logically and will know how to use computers in a powerful way.” He adds, the kids who want to be professional programmers have opportunities to be the top in the field.
Surprisingly, computer programming skills are not readily taught in schools nor part of the basic education requirement. The only opportunity a student may have to learn computer programming is at an after school club.
“Since I want to be a computer engineer, I can say I’ve done code for most of my life,” said Andrion.
At only 11-years old, he is steadily working toward his career goals. Along with him, other young people seek the same opportunities to learn computer programming and gain an edge over peers in college and in the workforce.
The after school program is developed and provided by a nonprofit organization called Experts, Teachers, Children. The organization pairs teachers with experts in STEM fields so that they can create after school programs that benefit children. For more information, visit expertsteacherschildren.com.
Author Erin Murtaugh is a founding partner of ETC.