When we think of learning and applying new skills, we imagine the process as linear, getting from point A to point B and continuing down a straight path of learning. But what if we thought of learning as not just a process of moving from one point to another but rather as a journey of opening doors that lead to new and exciting pathways and experiences.
Take, for example, the story of Marina Malone.
Marina is a senior at a Chicago public school, who, despite having almost no prior experience with coding, helped develop an app that she presented at MozFest 2015 in London, a web and tech festival where people from all over come to the show their latest ideas and meet like-minded creators.
When she started her journey her interests were mainly focused in science and the environment. She was interning at the Chicago Botanical Garden when the program manager sent her an email to see if she was interested in helping develop a transportation app for teens. Not knowing much about app development, start-ups, or the technology, Marina said yes.
That’s the most important part in any journey of learning—being able to say “yes” when a new opportunity comes your way.
After Marina agreed to be apart of the app-building team, she ended up at a civic hacking competition, which she described as a room full of “college students and guys with beards” typing on keyboards and drawing on whiteboards. Undeterred, Marina took in what there was to learn and ran with it.
“That’s the most important part in any journey of learning—being able to say “yes” when a new opportunity comes your way.”
As it turns out, the app she was invited to work on, RideW/Me, wasn’t just some geeky app developers dream but a relevant tool that was useful to her, her friends, and her school.
The app creates an interface and space where teens can go to find educational events in the city and help them figure out the fastest and safest transportation to get there.
Over the course of a couple months, she went from having no experience with app development to presenting the app on a livestream, participating in Chicago Hack Night and learning to code on Code Academy.com….all of which doesn’t sound much like environmental science.
In November, Marina made it MozFest where she showcased RideW/Me and co-lead a session.
While in London she met people who were as passionate about learning, helping communities, and science, as she was. She saw projects from all over the world utilizing the web and technology in areas from science, to art, to journalism, and education. She met a woman who used the programming of robots to teach code to young girls of color. She attended a panel on tech careers for people who aren’t engineers or programmers.
She was particularly inspired by a project named Hear Us Here which uses i-Beacons to activate spaces and provide multimedia content to your phone. Marina looked at this app and thought about how it could be used in her community and with her peers. All along the way she found encouragement from people to pursue her interest in science and technology and even managed to get a few contacts from people who might help her out in the future.
The more she was able to see at the Science Fair and at MozFest as a whole, the more she realized that tech isn’t just about technology and programming, but it’s also about connecting with communities.
In just a few months, her path has opened up and changed from her days interning at the Chicago Botanic Gardens. One attendee offered support and encouraged her that computer science might be a good path to follow and that it’s an evolving field that needs people like her in it.
Marina is now back in Chicago where she’s continuing to work on RideW/Me, do community work, and is now planning on college for computer engineering.
Since Marina was open to new pathways of learning, whether they’re windy or straight, she was able to take everything she learned at MozFest and bring it into her world.