By May S. Ruiz
Just what can a 13-year-old kid possibly accomplish in five days? Something pretty awesome, it turns out.
Rana Lulla, who is 13 years old, produced an RPG (Role Playing Game) during the five days that he attended iD Tech Summer Camps using Java coding. A rising 8th grade student at the American School of Bombay in India, Rana is the quintessential brainiac – exceptionally articulate about computer programming and given to well-thought out responses to questions about what he envisions for himself in the future.
This is Rana’s second time at a tech summer camp; he attended a similar one a couple of years ago in Bombay. He enjoys coding and conversations with him turn high-tech quickly – with him saying he learned GUI (Graphic User Interfaces) and spouting terms like IF functions. He likes playing sandbox games Minecraft and Terraria and is super excited about creating a game he can play with his like-minded friends. Rana sees himself pursuing a degree and career as a coder – writing programs for and designing video games.
Then there’s Amala Russo, an 11-year old rising 6th grader at South Pasadena Middle School. A recent transplant from northern California, she is here to familiarize herself with computers and is taking Introduction to Scratch and Java Script. While she is non-techie, Amala nevertheless feels that it is important to learn computers because technology is all around us and isn’t going away any time soon. On her fourth day at iD Tech summer camp at Caltech she learned Adobe Photoshop, programming, and creating games. She says her teacher taught them how to make games using the cat Sprite, a CSS language method.
Amala admits that sitting in front of computers can be tiring at times, so she is glad for the breaks when all the kids go outside to play sports. She also confesses that she is a really active person and is more of a performing artist – she likes acting and dancing. The early part of Amala’s summer was spent in Acting Camp at La Cañada High School; it culminated with a multi-themed production where she sang in a group rendition of a song from Tarzan.
Tyson Mak is another 11-year-old who goes to High Point Academy in Pasadena, where he will be in 6th grade come Fall. He is taking Introduction to Java Programming and Minecraft. He likes Minecraft Mods and after looking at what others have done, he decided to make one himself. And he did. But he couldn’t get it to work, so his mom sent him to iD Tech camp to learn Java programming. On his fourth day at camp he learned to add custom items like block and texture.
For his final project, Tyson made a Commerce Mod as a more organized way to buy and sell things on Minecraft. He intends to put it on the Minecraft server, where players connect to play together remotely. Lest you think Tyson is all work and no play, he quickly points out that he actually is a sports enthusiast who enjoys playing basketball at school. He spent two weeks in Newport Beach for some fun time with his family and is going to surfing camp in two weeks. It’s his summer vacation after all.
At iD Tech Summer Camp, kids like Rana, Amala, and Tyson learn everything from Coding and App Development, Robotics, Game Design, 3D modeling, Digital Photography and Web Design, and Filmmaking. Classes are made up of seven weeklong sessions where students can enroll to develop their skill, or further explore subjects by taking multiple sessions of the same course.
The company’s extraordinary start is in itself worthy of a book. Alexa Ingram-Cauchi, having earned her business degree from the University of Washington, entered a Business Plan Competition. With guidance from a professor at UW, she submitted a pilot program for a tech camp held in a small class setting where kids use products professional utilize in the real world. Her project won first place and she received several thousand dollars in prize money.
And so in 1999, at a time when the iPhone did not exist, Google was a year old, AOL was the only search engine, and there were few women entrepreneurs or practitioners in the technology field, Alexa, using her competition award as seed money, founded iD Tech Camps in a room above their house’s garage in Los Gatos. It was a small family affair – her brother came on board to run the fledgling company; her dad worked as camp director and trainer; and her mom was human resources director.
According to Karen Thurm Safran, VP of Marketing and Business Development, iD Tech camps started out with four locations in Santa Clara University, UC Irvine, St. Mary’s College of CA-Moraga, and CSU Monterey Bay. Today there are a total of 123 locations, with 88 iD Tech Camps, nine Alexa Café (all-girls program), eight iD Tech Mini (half-day options for ages 6-9), eleven iD Programming Academies, and seven iD Game Design & Development Academies. These camps are scattered all over the country and held in the most illustrious campuses like MIT, Harvard, Columbia University, Princeton, University of Pennsylvania, University of Virginia, UNC-Chapel Hill, Southern Methodist University, UC Berkeley, Stanford, Cal Poly Pomona, and UCLA.
Each summer camp is made up of seven week-long sessions and classes are broken into clusters of eight students to one instructor, making for a personalized experience. The eight-hour classes are interspersed with breaks for outdoor activities to keep the kids from getting restless with so many hours of sitting in front of computers. All summer programs provide students with custom iD T-shirt, a USB drive, and bottled water. Camp attendees take home their portfolio or course activity file after presenting their final project at the end of their session. They also earn a diploma with their instructor’s insights.
Instructors for the camps are chosen from the most prestigious universities. Prospective candidates go through an extensive selection process, background checks, and rigorous training. Not surprisingly, many of the instructors were themselves former iD Tech campers.
The technology boom has shown itself in the exponential growth of attendees to iD Tech camps. From 329 students in 1999, it increased to over 1,600 learners in 2000. By 2005, attendance was at 11,000; in 2011 it had nearly 20,000 enrollees; in 2014 there were over 36,000 students and this summer, they came in with close to 50,000!
Ms. Safran says that in addition to preparing its students for the future, iD Tech is preparing the future for them. It has partnered with the Arbor Day Foundation to plant one tree for each student who attends its summer program, with a goal of planting over one million trees. Additionally, this year, Alexa Café collaborated with Code.org to provide 100 girls iD Tech Camps scholarships to help right the current imbalance in the number of girls who are taking computer science courses (only 14% of computer science undergraduates are female).
According to its company brochures, there will be one million STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) jobs that are expected to be unfilled by 2020. iD Tech is helping close that gap with programs that teach students the skills they need to thrive in a tech-driven world. It’s reassuring to know that kids like Rana, Amala, and Tyson are taking the first steps to gain the abilities and competence necessary to fill those jobs.