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Milwaukee Students Learn Code, Open Door to IT Careers

LaToya Dennis
Alvin Cherry works on a coding assignment.

A group of Milwaukee area kids is headed to Washington D.C. this week to compete in a national high school computer competition. The teens are developing skills that lead to positions companies often have a hard time filling.

Alvin Cherry is like a lot of 15 year olds. The Rufus King junior likes football and hanging out with friends, but at the top of his list are video games.

“They’re so cool, it’s like my favorite form of entertainment. It’s fun. I just like video games. I want to be a video game developer when I grow up,” Cherry says.

But what separates Cherry from a lot of other kids his age is the fact that he’s already working toward his dream. Cherry has been going to Washington High School's computer lab just about every Saturday for the past 10 months. He’s a member of the Milwaukee Black Data Processing Association’s high school team.

The kids use coding languages such as HTML and CSS to design web pages. Right now, Cherry is building a login page where you have to enter a password in order to move forward. He says while he’s not yet making video games, what he’s learning is valuable.

“It’s still information that I should have in order to prosper in the technology world,” he says.

This morning, team members are preparing for their biggest challenge of the year—the national competition in Washington D.C. Cherry leads the group. Last year, it placed 14 out of about 30 teams.  He wants to do better this year. “I’m hoping for one, number one,” Cherry says.

But Albert Thomas says he hopes for something different. “I like to count my success in the students that continue on in their education that go to college, they’re actually involved in IT careers,” he says.

Thomas works in IT for GE and is one of the professionals who volunteers to instruct the students. Along with GE, major companies such as Rockwell and Miller Coors supply mentors and foot the cost. Thomas says the program exposes kids to people they would not normally have access to and to career paths they might never think possible.

“People who learn these skills and get in this technology do get to the point of being very employable. That increase the employment rate in our brings a brighter future for the entire area. And may even, if I’m bold enough to say, lift families out of poverty and get a new direction,” Thomas says.

Back in the computer lab, 13-year-old Jayla Childress is building a mobile coloring app. Childress is a member of the association’s youth team and says she’ll stick around next year to join the high schoolers. She says she’s most excited about meeting other teams at the national contest.

Her biggest fear has nothing to do with the competition. She’s afraid of flying. Childress admits she doesn’t foresee a career in IT; she dreams of attending Harvard and becoming a pediatric cardiologist. But she says the tech skills she’s learning will allow her to do her own marketing.

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