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Alexandra Roumeliotis is a 17-year-old high school senior from San Francisco, California. An avid programmer, in 2016, she founded The Coding League, a non-profit organization dedicated to inspiring girls and minorities in computer science through exploration.
Mainly active in the San Francisco Bay Area and Toronto, Roumeliotis’ efforts have been recognized by the National Center for Women in Technology. Roumeliotis is a big advocate for women in STEM, hoping to bridge the gender gap in technology. A budding entrepreneur, she attended MIT Launch last summer, founding the company Beefindr, which connects parents to after-school programs and camps.
Passionate about the intersection between technology and healthcare, she is working on programming an application and 3D-printed lens attachment in order to diagnose her grandfather’s rare neurological disorder. Next year in college, she plans to pursue a dual major in Computer Science and Biology to learn how to further implement computer science in order to solve real-world problems.
City where you’re from: San Francisco, California
Hobbies: Baking, reading, hiking, and coding
Favorite quote: “ You can’t fall if you don’t climb. But there’s no joy in living your whole life on the ground.” –Unknown
Great having you here Alexandra, what inspired you to found The Coding League?
Alexandra Roumeliotis: My passion for computer science was something that I had to discover on my own. No one put a computer in front of me told me that I needed to code, like how many boys are encouraged.
I spent my summers in my Dad’s office, where I was surrounded by technology and engineers, which really sparked my curiosity, and propelled me into learning how to code from online resources.
However, not every kid is exposed to an environment like this that can really foster a curiosity in computer science. Most girls aren’t actively pushed towards computer science, a rate which is even lower in low-income communities without access to at-home computers and technology.
Most girls aren’t actively pushed towards computer science, a rate which is even lower in low-income communities without access to at-home computers and technology.
Growing up in the Bay Area, I’ve become very aware of the present economic inequalities; I wanted to find a way to expose girls, especially low-income, to computer science principles through exploration and collaboration.
I want to open the door for an interest in computer science, which can inspire a greater passion later on in life. What I hoped to do, is expose girls to the fundamentals of computer science in creative ways, in order to inspire that initial curiosity that they can develop further.
Tell us more about how The Coding League came about?
I began The Coding League in 2016, by holding a technology drive at my high school, with the intention of collecting devices in order to be redistributed throughout the community in order to support local computer science non-profit organizations.
Soon after, I realized that I wanted to take my work a step further by engaging directly with the youth in my community. I feel like the way computer science is often approached in educational settings is very rigid; I wanted to approach it very creatively, and inspire these girls with the possibilities of what they could create.
With a team of equally passionate individuals across the globe, we worked to plan workshops at local middle schools and organizations. We have now initiated an ambassador program, where girls can work to impact youth in their own community.
What makes The Coding League different?
Our goal is not to teach kids how to be an expert in Java in a single session, but instead to expose them to the fundamentals behind computer science in a creative and engaging way.
A lot of organizations focus on teaching youth to code through long term boot camps and after school programs, which I think is amazing and absolutely necessary. However, my goal is to open the door for girls who may not have been initially interested in computer science, by allowing them to experiment with it through collaboration and creation.
Most girls aren’t actively pushed towards computer science, a rate which is even lower in low-income communities without access to at-home computers and technology. I hope to demonstrate that computer science is more than just typing on a keyboard; it’s a way to explore new creative possibilities.
I hope to demonstrate that computer science is more than just typing on a keyboard; it’s a way to explore new creative possibilities.
My goal is not to turn every girl I encounter into a future computer scientist, but to expose them to the fundamentals of computer science in an explorative way, opening the door for endless possibilities.
What’s your dream with The Coding League?
My dream for the Coding League is definitely to reach as many girls as possible. Right now, we’re primarily based in the San Francisco Bay Area and Toronto, which are two extremely urban centers.
I would want to find ways in order to reach youth in less metropolitan, rural areas. Expansion beyond major cities aligns with The Coding League’s mission to expose and inspire girls who aren’t traditionally pushed towards computer science.
What has been your biggest challenge?
In the first workshops we hosted, I noticed that a lot of the students weren’t engaging with the material, and I knew that there was something that I needed to change. I experimented a few ways, and realized that kids were most engaged when they were hands-on interacting.
Last week, we held a Robotics workshop, where we allowed the girls to experiment and play with the robotics kits; by the end of the workshop, the girls were visibly upset to leave. I noticed immense collaboration and a genuine curiosity, which to me, meant that the workshop was successful.
This experience taught me to really listen and pay attention to my target group, as it is essential to the success and growth of the organization. I believe that all ideas have room for improvement, and I think it’s important as an entrepreneur to recognize this, especially if you are trying to make a true impact.
What are your top 3 tips for other young entrepreneurs?
- Start Small, but Dream Big
“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams”. Dreaming big is your rocket fuel. However, solving a smaller more acute problem allows you to earn trust of your ecosystem. With the Coding League, I began by hosting a technology drive at my high school. After this, opportunities to engage with local schools arose, which later matured into opportunities to partner with larger organizations. There are no overnight successes, its takes many micro-wins to gain the right momentum.
- Don’t Be Afraid To Ask For Help
As a young entrepreneur, it is important to have humility. You are inexperienced; take advantage of the opportunities to learn from others with more life experience and established specialties. While working on The Coding League, I relied on the help of teachers, professors, and experts in the field of computer science to determine curriculum and the most effective ways of teaching a workshop. You have a lot to learn; admit to what you don’t know and learn from those who are willing to help you.
- Love What You Do
I am often asked how I balance school, social life, and my work with The Coding League. To me, my work with The Coding League feels less like a job, and more like putting my effort towards a cause I am passionate about. I look forward to investing my time and seeing the direct impact of my work. Make your entrepreneurial venture something that you want to put your effort and time into; when you are passionate about your idea and believe in its impact, it will translate into your work as well.
What’s next in store for The Coding League?
Lots of exciting stuff!
We have more workshops planned in Toronto and the Bay Area this year. We are also working on planning a day-long summit in August for middle and high school girls in the San Francisco Bay Area. For this summit, we are working on partnering with a diverse group of organizations.
I think it’s very important to incorporate different fields of computer science such as robotics and 3D Printing into the exposure, to further demonstrate the interactive and creative nature of computer science.