YouthSpark Star

Victoria Tran

This high school student is spreading her love of programming to other girls.

Victoria Tran

“Nerdy is the New Cool” and how Victoria won over Girl Coders

Standing in a packed computer lab, Victoria Tran’s stomach felt as if she’d swallowed a panicked bird. More than thirty faces, sitting two to a computer, stared at her expectantly. She and a friend had started a chapter of the Girls Who Code club at Lowell High School in San Francisco, and during the first meeting all these girls waited to see what she could teach them.


The junior had rehearsed the lesson all night long, watching her facial expressions in the mirror and flipping through notes on color-coded index cards. She had been writing code for barely a year, but now it was time to introduce her passion to her peers.

Suppressing her jitters, Victoria clicked the first slide of a PowerPoint presentation and launched into the first lesson. It wasn’t long before her voice steadied and she began to pace the room. Someone told a joke, and everyone relaxed.

By the end of that first meeting last fall, club members—many of whom had never done any programming—were writing elementary code. In the weeks that followed, they animated cartoons, created games, and even built apps. Club members hugged her in thanks for her lessons and called out when they grasped an unfamiliar concept. “Oh, now I get it!” was the repeated refrain.


Victoria participates in camps, meet-ups, conferences and clubs to build on her
                                        computer science skills.

Victoria participates in camps, meet-ups, conferences and clubs to build on her computer science skills.

Victoria, 16, is proud that she can help others understand something that is challenging and fun, especially because she didn’t always “get” school, either.

Growing up, Victoria wrestled with difficult subjects alone. Her parents immigrated to the United States from Vietnam when they were just teenagers and without having graduated from high school. Knowing little English, they scrambled to find jobs and adapt to living in an unfamiliar place. Although her mother later earned her GED and certification as an accountant, Victoria didn’t get much help with homework at home.

“When you’re alone and don’t understand and don’t have courage to ask for help, you’re digging a hole for yourself,” Victoria says. “It was hard enough to explain to my parents a problem in English, and I can’t say ‘4x + 2y equals what?’ in Vietnamese.”


Victoria and her TEALS class tour the Microsoft campus in Silicon Valley.

Victoria and her TEALS class tour the Microsoft campus in Silicon Valley.

Thanks to determination, an aptitude for school, and friends who helped with tricky subjects, Victoria earned good grades. But transitioning to Lowell, a school with the reputation of educating ultra-competitive students, took its toll. She stuttered, was too anxious to ask a question in class, and faked stomachaches so she could go home a few hours early.

“I came into high school feeling diminished, feeling like I had to prove myself. Everyone I knew was good at something—math or memorizing history or physics—but I wasn’t,” Victoria says. Yes, she earned excellent grades, but the feeling that she didn’t have a talent to distinguish herself persisted.

Then the summer before sophomore year, a friend talked her into attending a coding camp, and she’s immersed herself in computer science ever since. What’s more, she wants to introduce STEM skills to her peers—especially girls, who may feel shut out of a male-dominated industry. “I needed to spread our knowledge and allow other girls to see what the tech industry is really like with hands on learning experiences,” she says.


In addition to programming, Victoria loves music and playing her guitar. She and
                                        her family sing together in their free time.

In addition to programming, Victoria loves music and playing her guitar. She and her family sing together in their free time.

Wanting to deepen her understanding of technology, Victoria signed up for a TEALS (Technology Education and Literacy in Schools) course at Lowell. TEALS is a Microsoft YouthSpark program that places volunteer high tech professionals into high school classrooms to teach computer science. TEALS volunteers team up with school teachers who learn the material along with the students and eventually hand off the courses so the schools’ programs can grow.

Not only did TEALS develop Victoria’s budding programming skills; she learned about career paths from the four professionals who co-taught her course. The exposure to the array of STEM jobs made her set her sights on computer science or electrical engineering majors, a career in tech and, later, graduate school.

“She shows so much passion and dedication to the field,” says Chris Han, cofounder of the document collaboration company Letter Feed and one of her TEALS instructors. “I wouldn’t be surprised to see her at some awesome startup or software company after she graduates college. She clearly knows what she wants and is doing the right things in getting her dreams to come true.”


Victoria and her TEALS class tour the Microsoft campus in Silicon Valley.

Victoria and her TEALS class tour the Microsoft campus in Silicon Valley.

In addition to teaching Victoria’s TEALS class, he forwards her information about nearby tech meet-ups, where Victoria asks career advice from CEOs and founders of startups. Han also helps his young student with her coding club lessons, suggesting she bulk up the programming instruction or explain how the skills could translate into a career.

Finding her calling has helped Victoria shed the crippling anxiety and fear that held her back. She thinks someday she might improve on prosthetic limb technology or engineer software. For now, though, she builds hardware in the school’s robotics club, acts as student ambassador for Girls Who Code and participated in the afterschool Square High School Code Camp.

The teen prioritizes fun, too. She loves to swim and plays the guitar for family sing-alongs with her parents and younger sister. And, like any other high schooler, she sometimes bristles under her parents’ pressure to earn perfect grades.


Yet Victoria knows that her parents struggled—and continue to do everything they can—to provide their children opportunities in America. “They didn't need to speak fluent English to push me past my limits to ensure that I live a better life than them,” she says. “I want them to be proud of who I am now and who I will be.”

As she gains faith in herself along with computer skills, she is proud of herself, too.

“I’m getting better and better. I feel more confident in my abilities. I’ve never been so sure of myself and what I can do,” she says. She is less concerned about blending into the background now that she embraces her technophile identity. “Nerdy is the new cool!”


More YouthSpark Stars
Photo Gallery
Josinaldo’s Story

Josinaldo’s Story

Living on $50 a month, this rural Brazilian youth found new opportunity for himself and his family through a tech-skills and training program.

Riri’s Story

Riri’s Story

This Tokyo student’s life was transformed after she learned information and technology skills through the Digital Youth program.

Mary’s Story

Mary’s Story

From the slums of Mombasa, Kenya to being named the most accomplished student in her graduating class at American University in Dubai, technology changed Mary’s life.