A Role Model for Middle School Coding Club

“I wanted to be an engineer because I like building things and working with my hands,” Batool Ali explained to a group of Class 4, 5 and 6 students who were listening with rapt attention. True to her aspirations, Ms. Ali did indeed become a successful engineer; for the past eight years, she has been creating software for Google.

As the guest speaker for a recent meeting of Scratch, the Middle School’s student-run coding club, Ms. Ali graciously shared her experiences in the technology industry, from the specific type of software she designs to the ways in which she has navigated this male-dominated field.

“Every time I got bored, I went to my boss and asked to do something else,” Ms. Ali explained from her spot at the front of Room 607. “I wanted more challenges.”

This perseverance helped Ms. Ali land her current position at Google, where she devotes much of her time to an area known as “predictive analytics.” In simpler terms, she helps computers remember huge amounts of disparate data and organize users’ online activity, otherwise known as “digital footprints.”

“What does a computer need to remember for its drive to work?” she asked the club members. “Who you are,” one student offered. “Where my documents are saved,” another suggested. “Your passwords,” said a third.

Ms. Ali nodded in agreement. “I work on building ways to make that happen quickly and for computers to store more data,” she added.

Before Ms. Ali wrapped up her engaging presentation, one last question was posed. “What is your favorite part of your job?” a student wanted to know.

“My office!” she exclaimed. “The environment in which you work really makes a difference. Google is very intentionally constructed and very comfortable,” said Ms. Ali, who admitted to enjoying the “nap pods” and the quiet nooks throughout Google’s New York headquarters, which is located in Chelsea.

Scratch – named for the popular visual coding language – is directed by two Class 6 students, Emma Chang and Zara Haque, who proposed the concept for the club to Head of Middle School Mary Rafferty. After Ms. Rafferty gave her approval, Trude Goodman, Head of the Middle School Technology Department, stepped in as the club’s faculty supervisor.

As the leaders, Emma and Zara are responsible for planning Scratch’s agenda, overseeing each meeting’s activities, including an assortment of ice-breaker challenges, and even inviting professionals like Batool Ali to visit.

“Emma and I wanted the Scratch club members to hear how you can use coding in the real world, at a cool company like Google,” said Zara. “We also thought that we could learn a lot from speaking to Ms. Ali and hearing about her experiences as a woman working in the computer science field.”

In addition to learning from experts, Scratch club members develop important skills by coding a variety of innovative projects, such as websites and video games. “Other than being a useful tool, coding has many other benefits,” noted Emma. “When I learned to code, I developed the ability to problem-solve and be creative. I feel that coding is something that you can always get better at. I also think that coding teaches communication skills and teamwork.”

Added Zara, “It’s also super fun to watch people finally figure out that problem that they’ve been working on and go ‘yes!’”

With such confidence, determination and passion, the talented coders in Scratch are well on their way to making their marks in the technology world. Google should take note!