Alum Feature: Carlos Mendoza
Where are you from, what is your background?
I am originally from Nicaragua. I came to the US when I was nine. I went from Nicaragua to South Florida, to Georgia, then landed in New York and I have been here ever since. I live in Astoria, Queens now. As long as I’m in New York, I don’t want to be anywhere else.
How did you get into coding? Tell us about your journey to Fullstack.
In terms of my experience for the last couple of years, I have been in the non profit education sector. Specifically working with two organizations,City Year for four years, and then the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship for two years. At City Year I was part of a few teams, and then ended up managing some of those teams. We worked in New York City middle schools providing academic support for students. At the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship I worked as a program manager, collaborating with teachers and administrators to implement an entrepreneurship curriculum that walked high school students through the process of creating a business plan. At the NTE I also led a program called Startup Summer, which took the best business plans and provided those students with resources to actually launch their business ideas. That was a great process to see happen.
So in some ways you were helping out kids in their teens follow their their dreams and passions. What kind of career did you picture for yourself at 17?
Like many students entering college, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to pursue as a career. However, I knew that I wanted do something that I felt would be impacting people’s lives positively. Early on at Cornell I decided to study economics because I felt it would help me better understand how economies work and why so much inequality exists. I also had a summer internship that gave me with the opportunity to teach Math to middle school students. That experience, and a reflection on the impact that education has had on my own life, helped me decide that I wanted to be in education/nonprofit work after college. I saw education as the best way to do my part in making a difference.
I’ve also always had an interest in technology. At my previous organization, the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE), I was exposed to the tech world. I began teaching myself to code during my spare time and quickly figured out that I really enjoyed it. Not only is software fun and challenging to create, it also reaches people all over the world. It is a power conduit of change. In many ways, I feel like I am still following my idealistic dreams through software development.
Was there anything about your experience that go you into coding? Why did you choose Fullstack?
While at NFTE, we engaged a lot of volunteers who were themselves entrepreneurs. We specifically engaged entrepreneurs from the tech sector to help us work on a technical curriculum. Most of us at NFTE are educators, not necessarily technical people in nature, so we had to do a lot of research to actually teach the fundamentals, like building a basic application. So just being exposed to that world and meeting people in tech and learning how cool it is to create something with code, really felt empowering. Over time I realized that this is something that I wanted to pursue full time.
I started talking to people in the tech sector about their experience and found out that I didn’t necessarily need a computer science degree to be in the field. A lot of people recommended coding bootcamps to really accelerate the learning process and making a career switch. On top of continuing to code, I started doing a lot of online research on coding schools, and two things really stood out to me about Fullstack. One was the curriculum and the second was just hearing and seeing what the alumni had to say, which were very positive things.
So what do you like about the program here at Fullstack?
The instructors, I think they genuinely care about us. It’s evident that they love teaching. As an educator it’s obvious that they love what they do. I think that goes a long way.
You’re in the last half of the on-campus portion of the course now, being a “Senior”… What’s your favorite part about this phase at Fullstack?
I love being creative in terms of implementing the technologies that we have learned. Now that we’re working on our own projects, it’s great driving the development process ourselves. I also really enjoy collaborating with other teammates and hearing their ideas. Seeing your ideas become reality is amazing.
What is your Capstone Project?
It’s an agile project management tool that integrates with Github in real-time. The capstone project is great because we are able to build something to solve a problem we experience ourselves.
Carlos presenting his project Cardboard during Fullstack’s Hiring Day
Switching gears a little bit… You come from an education background, including working with low-income communities. One of the biggest issues in tech today is lack of diversity in the workforce… What are your thoughts on that issue and how do you think schools like Fullstack could potentially help solve it?
There are a lot of reports out there that show that there is a lack of diversity in the tech workforce. Specifically with Black, Latino, and Women in general, so I think that it is an issue. It’s important to recognize that there is a lack of diversity, and I think a lot of the big companies are recognizing that and they’re working hard on initiatives to help bring more people of color and more women into their organizations.
I think some of the problem has to do with lack of early exposure in these communities to the tech industry and programming. To solve this issue, I know programs like Gen Tech are working high school students, introducing them to some of the concepts of computer science and emphasizing that this is a possibility for a career. Programs like that are important, you are introducing people to what it’s like to be able to build stuff and write code. A lot of younger people from these communities don’t have a lot of context of what programming is like. Or that working as a developer is a very possible and good career path for them. The more we can spread awareness about programming and tech careers, and the earlier in the educational path, the better.
What do you think coding schools like Fullstack could be doing to help solve this issue?
I think coding bootcamps do their part to help. There are two potential groups to target, one is high school students and one is college students that are actually looking to get into computer science. For both, maybe some type of mentoring program on the weekend, where coding school students, like Fullstackers, can mentor them. Also having a fun event like a hackathon where the high school and college students can work with the programmers to build interesting projects. I also think more scholarships would help. It’s been done in the past, but more would help since the financial commitment can be a lot for people. So scholarships and payment plans. Also just actively targeting locations. There would have to be a specific program to target these minorities in general.
Even for myself, what got me interested was just being exposed to coding. If that didn’t happen I wouldn’t be here. It’s about exposing people and letting them know that it’s a possibility.
Where do you see yourself after Fullstack?
After Fullstack, my goal is to work as a software developer. My experience here has reaffirmed that this is the path that I want to follow and that building software is a passion of mine. I’ve had a great time here and I truly enjoy the problem solving, collaborative, creative, and challenging aspects of software engineering. I am also looking to work on some side projects… Hopefully you will hear about them soon!
**Follow-Up:** Since graduating Fullstack, Carlos has secured a job as a software engineer at Cedrus, an exciting high-tech cloud/mobile startup!