Teenager inspired by MIT OpenCourseWare and MITx to learn computer programming — and teach others

Teenager inspired by MIT OpenCourseWare and MITx to learn computer programming — and teach others

MIT Open Learning

Teenager inspired by MIT OpenCourseWare and MITx to learn computer programming — and teach others

Sixteen-year-old David teaches himself how to code and pays it forward to his community

Illustration Credit: MariamArsaliaa on iStock

By Stefanie Koperniak

For David G., a sixteen-year-old from Southern California, career inspiration appeared in an unexpected way. He was scrolling through YouTube Shorts during his winter break when he saw a video about MIT OpenCourseWare. The person in the short explained how he learned to code from real MIT classes on this online platform. And the best part? These resources were all free.

David was instantly intrigued. Although he was already an avid consumer of technology, he hadn’t previously thought of computer programming as something he could learn. But since the video linked to 6.0001 Introduction to Programming in Python — taught by Professors Ana Bell, Eric Grimson, and John Guttag — he went to the course website and did just that.

“It was really pure chance,” says David. He was only browsing YouTube to occupy his time. He didn’t expect to jumpstart an online learning journey. “I learned how to code from MIT without having stepped on campus.”

The impact of accessible educational resources

David lives in a vibrant Latinx community that “blends the best of both sides of the border,” he says. “I love the murals that are all over, and the amazing taco stands that you can find if you know where to look.” He says the community tends to be lower income families, which means less funding for educational opportunities.

“I know not a lot of people in my immediate area really know about coding, and the people who know about it might be too afraid to start because it sounds scary or complicated,” David says. “I think it’s definitely a skill that will serve someone well in the current economy.”

Thanks to the 6.0001 introductory course, the concepts of coding seemed much simpler than David had anticipated.

“The basic types of variables made sense to me: a string is basically words, an ‘int’ is a number, and a floating point number is just a number with a decimal,” he says. “At the time, I felt as though I had made a breakthrough in life when, realistically, I had learned the computer science equivalent of the ABCs.”

But that was the catalyst propelling David towards a new possible future: a career where he develops programs that solve problems and help people. David will be matriculating at a local community college this fall, and ultimately plans to study AI and machine learning. Although he had originally planned to pursue an education and career in law, his fascination with technology has only grown since discovering MIT’s online learning content.

He explored more of the MIT Open Learning Library, which provides free online courses from MIT, including OpenCourseWare and MITx. He completed both 6.00.1x Introduction to Computer Science and Programming Using Python and 6.00.2x Circuits and Electronics. As someone who likes to work through material quickly, David says he appreciated how the MITx courses were structured and the in-depth coverage of each topic.

“First, I watched the video. Immediately afterwards, there was an exercise to help me cement the idea,” says David. “This was paced in a way that helped me to learn, then test and review my learning as I went along.”

Paying it forward

David saw the transformative power of free open-access education firsthand. Now he plans to pay forward what he’s gained from MIT’s open learning courses by trying to help make coding education more accessible in his own community. His local library is soon opening a small STEM center, and he plans to volunteer to teach coding to young students there. Not only does he want to share what he learned in 6.00.1x and 6.00.2x, he hopes to open their minds to the amazing world of computers and programming.

“I really believe in the idea that knowledge not put to use is useless knowledge, and to me the most useful way to use my coding knowledge is to share it with other people,” he says. “My hope is that I can use my knowledge to make coding understandable to kids in my community.”

He is turning again to MIT OpenCourseWare as he prepares for college in the fall, studying 18.01 Single Variable Calculus and 8.01SC Classical Mechanics.

“It’s so amazing to be able to access these lectures and courses, to think that I can be ‘sitting’ in an MIT lecture from wherever I am,” says David. “It’s such an incredible opportunity.”

Teenager inspired by MIT OpenCourseWare and MITx to learn computer programming — and teach others was originally published in MIT Open Learning on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


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