Breaking The Code: Cambria Heights Teen Conquers Computer Sciences

BY RODNEY D GANTT

Working toward a career in software engineering, one young woman from Cambria Heights joined the growing organization Black Girls Code to study computer science and coding in the hopes of making a difference in the world and refusing to be a “hidden figure” in a field dominated by white men.

Jasmyne Jean-Remy, 16, member of Black Girls Code, standing in front of the Katherine Johnson Conference Room at Google headquarters in Chelsea. Photo Courtesy of the Jean-Remy family

Jasmyne Jean-Remy, 16, member of Black Girls Code, standing in front of the Katherine Johnson Conference Room at Google headquarters in Chelsea. Photo Courtesy of the Jean-Remy family

Jasmyne Jean-Remy, 16, joined Black Girls Code (BGC) after attending one of its classes with her mother, Nicole Jean-Remy. Founded in 2011, the organization is designed to introduce young African American girls, ages 7 to 17, to computer technology and coding in the hopes that they may develop an interest in the STEM fields.

With a goal of educating and training one million girls by 2040, “Black Girls Code has set out to prove to the world that girls of every color have the skills to become the programmers of tomorrow,” according to the organization.

Initially interested in becoming a doctor, Jean-Remy said her godmother, a cardiologist, suggested she become a dermatologist. Despite encouragement from her mother who took her to programs such as Mentoring in Medicine, where she learned about health careers, Jean-Remy said she began to rethink her career path after taking a few science classes in high school .

“I took biology and I hated it, then chemistry and I hated that too,” she said. “I said to myself, ‘if I do not like any of these classes, what made me think I would enjoy being a doctor?’”

She admits that she was never sure about a career in dermatology, having pursued it since others around her seemed to like the idea.

Always looking for fun events to pique the interest of her children, all of whom Jean-Remy’s mother said are interested in science, she came across the coding class, “Build an App in a Day,” sponsored by BGC, on the event listing website Eventbrite.

Encouraging her to take the class, Jean-Remy said she had no interest in coding at the time, but decided to give it a try. She and her mother both agreed that she managed to pick it up quickly at age 14.

“As we got into the class and they were teaching us what they wanted us to do, it seemed logical, the way they were talking was just how I think— and so I was able to take to it very easily, do what they asked of me and help others,” Jean-Remy said.

The class involved developing the scoring system for a video game app through coding.

“She was having to help me and others in the class and I saw how she was picking it up, she was so quick and so fast and she was only a freshman in high school,” Jean-Remy’s mother said. “She would say, ‘it’s so easy, mommy, how do you not know it,’ and she didn’t understand how we couldn’t get it as fast as she could.”

It was at this point that Jean-Remy began to consider coding as a career.

“I try to think logically and [I]guess the way coding works is the way my brain functions,” she said. “I thought to myself, ‘I’m good at this, I enjoy doing this, maybe I should look into this as a career.’”

Since starting the program in 2015, Jean-Remy said she has learned a lot, not only from BGC but from other programs, including online coding programs her father showed her and her AP computer science class. She is also involved in a program known as STEAM Core, where she is learning even more coding and program language like Python and Javascript. Right now, she is building a website and designing an app for the owner of the company.

As part of the STEAM Core, Jean-Remy also teaches coding to other kids in the program and takes the lead on projects they work on, essentially leading the Core program which she described as a “sub-business” of the larger business.

Both Jean-Remy and her mom agreed that being a part of BGC has increased her confidence and improved her leadership skills.

“I’m a lot more head strong and I tackle problems better,” she said. “Since I started coding, I’m a lot more confident and I’m able to help everyone in my class, even the teacher if he doesn’t get something.”

The program has also given Jean-Remy the opportunity to meet engineers working at the Google headquarters in Chelsea, where BGC is located. And due to the connection between BGC and the film “Hidden Figures,” through its FutureKatherineJohnsons website, Jean-Remy, her mother and other girls in the program were given tickets to see the Academy Award-nominated movie.

Prior to joining BGC, Jean-Remy admitted that she had no idea who Katherine Johnson was, but after seeing the film she left feeling as though “anything is possible.”

“Back then, women were not able to do things like that, especially women of color nor people of color, and the fact that she was able to help one of the first men into space, I saw it as anything is possible, you can conquer the world if you want to,” Jean-Remy said.

Aware she is entering a male-dominated field, Jean-Remy said this does not make her feel inferior to men, and although she does see it as an obstacle, she also sees it as “an opportunity to be better than all the rest.”

As someone who occasionally doubts herself, Jean-Remy encouraged any girl having doubts about pursuing a career in STEM to “go forth with it and be head strong.”

“I would tell her not to doubt herself— if she knows she’s great, then she is and, because of that, she should be able to do whatever her heart desires,” she said.

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