What can a teen do to get more "experience"

Hello all,

I would like to preface this by saying that I know that the best way to gain experience in computer programming is to actually program. I work on personal projects, as well as projects for free code camp every day, and this question is based on how I might expand upon my knowledge at a relatively young age.

From what I just said above, it’s probably obvious now that I am a teenager. If you didn’t get that, well ta da! I am. I’ve completed the front end development certificate, and am working on my back end certificate currently. I started coding with FCC in December or November of 2016, but have always been more or less a technology fanatic. As most other teenagers, I’m starting to think about how I wanna apply for college. I’m only 16, so I’m a rising Junior, and will not be graduating until the year 2019, however, a head start is always great. I know that I want to go to a top tier school, and my grades and test scores are not out of reach of this goal. However, with college being available to more and more people by the day, top ten colleges are getting more and more selective. I’ve looked around for a while online, as long with talked with an educational consultant. It seems like one thing stands out clear: the kids who are the most likely to get into these schools (Harvard, Stanford, Caltech, etc.) are the ones that are all really good at something, and stand out for what they do. This is where I need your help. I’m always going to continue to program on my own, but I’m worried that showing up to a college interview, or writing on my college application that “I completed certificates X, Y, and Z on freecodecamp.com” is not going to stand out enough. Now, believe me, I love FCC. Anyone who I’ve ever talked to that was interested in computer programming, I redirected them right here. At this point in my “career”, if one could even call it that, I’m trying to gain some real life experience to match the things I’ve already done online. It might be easier for someone who is interested in Biology or Chemistry to find a lab and a professor that is at least willing to talk to them, but I don’t exactly know where to go as a programmer. I’m looking to get an internship or an apprenticeship of some sorts anywhere I can find it, and I’m willing to do just about anything. I have my summer free, so now is best. One interesting idea that I had was that I live pretty close to the TripAdvisor headquarters, and so I thought I might look around their website to see if there were any internships or opportunities, but sure enough, there was not. I guess at this point, I’m asking for advice. I don’t expect anything to be handed to me, and I don’t expect someone who replies to this to be my golden ticket to Yale. I am merely looking for advice as to where I can find experience opportunities, and maybe for those who know more about the college admissions process, can inform me of a better route, seeing that computer science and programming is my deepest and most developed interest. Best regards.

I don’t mean to offend anyone with this post. As I was writing this, I thought to myself that maybe my naivete is getting the best of me, and I might show up as arrogant or ignorant to the people who have to bust their butts for years to find a developer job where they live. However, advancing my knowledge and education as a computer programmer is worth more to me than accidentally someone’s feelings, so if I say something that is not exactly “politically correct” in the tech world, or it sounds like I’m a little too naive, please forgive me.


I would say the best thing you could to gain experience and show off your work is to create a project that is actually used by humans or is something that could make human’s life better.

For instance, you could build a cancer app, which you train with cancer data, so users can select symptoms and see how likely it would be for they to have cancer.

My point is, these top schools care about the humanity, they push our knowledge to new frontiers, they’re looking for people who are willing to do the same.

If you show up and say “well, I’ve built a blog” it’s certainly not going to leave them impressed, but a “I’ve created a company which focuses on helping X achieve Y” is a better start.

TL;DR: Build applications that solve real problems.

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Yeah, build an app. Build several. Once you complete the FCC program you can also volunteer and help non-profits - I think that would look good too.

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I think it is pretty cool that you are learning to code at such a young age - I was a bit older than that when I started learning and older yet when I decided that I wanted it as a career and not just a hobby.

That being said, the advice that I’d give to someone your age would be pretty similar to the advice that I’d give someone a lot older - build something great. Having a large and diverse portfolio (like the one gained from FCC) is always beneficial but having one project that is truly excellent stands out so much more.

Oxyrus and ksjazz offer good advice in that building something that serves a specific humanitarian need will look great with a college submission, but I think that even more importantly it should be something that you genuinely think is cool and like to work on. If you start building this app now and dedicate yourself then you have good chances of making something awesome for your application package.

And regarding your summer job or internship, I wouldn’t necessarily give up on a company just because they have no public listings up at that time. As a student, your main network would probably be your school. Do any teachers at your school specialize in tech? Maybe they can point you in the right direction.

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Thanks to all three of you for your replies, this gives me a good step in the right direction.

To answer your question @RadDog25 , no, my school is not all that up to date on technology. Surprisingly, every student is required to use an iPad, however practically every teacher avoids using them entirely because they are worried 16,17, 18, and even 19 year olds will be too busy playing games, and not learning in class. I think it’s ridiculous. Regardless, school is not the best method for me in this case. Now I think I just need to find something that drives me. I’m not sure yet what, but I guess I’ll just keep searching for it

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@njanne19 Code every day! Same advice goes to us old folk too!

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I’m giving you advice from a different point of view…

I’m a parent of a now sophomore college student so it’s still fresh in our memory the ups and downs of college application, financial aids and stress of all of it. It’s good you’re starting out early in your planning for college application, deadlines can creep up on yo fast.

Acceptaance rates at these Ivy League schools are really low, 6% or even lower. A running joke is nobody got into Stanford because their acceptance
Rate is 0% this year.

It’s also I mportant that you have secondary choices and safety schools. My daughter applied and didn’t get into Yale even with very great (and some even perfect) ACT/SAT/GPA/etc scores and varied extra curriculars. She did however got accepted at Emory, ranked 20th in nation. Not her first choice but with the 100% grant/aid/scholarship offered to her, yeah thank you we’ll take it! Now, she’s employed as one of the few chosen student ambassador of the university and welcoming the incoming freshmen and helping them in their transition.

One thing we’ve heard over and over again is that colleges are looking for a well rounded, balanced person. They’re not looking to accept the top engineer or programmer into their college, no, that’s their job to make you into a top engineer or programmer or whatever. Instead they’re looking for kids who have talent, personality, gifts and uses these traits for the betterment of society. They’re looking for kids involved in other things outside of school. – now, don’t pad your resume saying you belong to 20 clubs, feed the homeless in your spare time, and looking for cancer cure on weekends. That just shows you don’t have a passion for anything specific, and you’re just padding your application.

They’re also looking for a proven track record and stick-to-it attitude by the student. Somebody involved for 4 years in the marching band would have more weight than somebody involved in 20 clubs during their senior year of high school.

You need to stand out and be memorable to the admission officers. And your essay should tie everything together, this is where you show you have personality.

It’s great you have talent in programming, and have passion for it. Now, how can you use your gifts to stand out in the application process? I think you learning another language or framework, or having interned at some X company won’t stand out a lot. (Just my opinion). So you getting more experience may not be the ticket to top tier college.

But let’s say you used your knowledge, passion and experience of programming to help others by starting a programming club/boot camp in your school and instructing both kids and teachers on how to program? Then you and your kids/teachers volunteer your time and talents to help non profit groups and causes around your community? Sounds familiar? Won’t that feat be more a standout in the application process? Than saying you learning 5 languages…?

Then write your application essay around that story and journey. It hits all points, your talent, expertise, leadership, giving back to community, helping others, etc.

I dont know if this is the kind of answer you’re looking for, again it’s just a different point of view to the question you posted above. Good luck!

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Thanks for the response. I knew generally speaking what you were saying about the college process and how they look for humanitarian individuals passionate and good at certain things (I read way too much about college), but I guess I was just having a rough start on how I can make a change in my community too. I live in a suburb where the poverty rate is 0.0027%, so it’s not exactly like there are many underprivileged people around me. Something I am really passionate about is that anybody can and should be able to learn how to computer programming for free(that’s why I love FCC so much), as jobs in computer programming are in ample supply in the USA, and they do not require a top 10 school education or any formal education at all. Thanks for the response, I’ll keep thinking on it.

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