Breaking coder stereotypes
At the young age of 5, Roxana Rugina was crazy about video games and parked herself in front of her father's computer to learn how to code. At 10, she joined a computer club in her hometown and was an Olympiad in math, physics, and chemistry. At 14 she started a computer science club for her peers who wanted to spend more than the allotted hour the school gave them in front of a computer. "I have lots of energy, don’t know if I will have it forever, so I want to use it now to help people. I have the same agenda as Microsoft, to empower people to do the right thing."
Several years later, Roxana found herself stuck sitting at a desk doing odd jobs, far removed from her love of science and technology. Though she had planned to turn her tech skills into a career, she was a blonde girl with a big smile and was told she didn’t fit the coder stereotype. Her mom steered her toward a more expected career path in public relations, telling her she should do something social.
Roxana followed that advice and went on to get a degree in communications. Unable to find a job, she continued school, moved from her hometown in Romania to Montreuil City in France, and earned two master’s degrees. Even with all those degrees and the ability to speak three languages, she couldn’t find a job in a communications agency. Roxana found part time work to earn a living. And instead of networking or public speaking like her mother envisioned, Roxana was sitting at a desk. Behind a computer is where she wanted to be, but she wasn’t doing what she loved: coding.
Sitting at that desk one day, Roxana had a revelation and became determined to reconnect with her childhood passion. She began networking, attending tech and startup events, going to conferences, and visiting accelerator spaces. She followed everyone she met on Twitter and that’s where she heard about a free six-month intensive programming boot camp called Simplon. Roxana applied and was accepted. She began training in the Simplon lab and soared. She was surrounded by people who shared her love of coding and she not only ramped up her programming skills, but learned how to write a business plan, develop her own apps, and explore how technology can be used as a tool to help society. Most importantly, Roxana learned that she fit right in as a coder, that no matter what someone looks like or where they’re from, they should look for a way to pursue their dreams.
Creating opportunities to build a better future
The nonprofit Simplon is funded by Microsoft YouthSpark, the company’s global initiative to help young people build a better future by creating opportunities in education, entrepreneurship, and employment. Simplon provides opportunities for underrepresented youth who might not otherwise have access to such tools and resources. An added bonus is when young people, like Roxana, decide to share what they have learned with the next generation. “I feel like I really need to pay it forward and do this for other people, show them what I’ve learned so they can do it too,” Roxana says. “Courage is contagious; I want to pass it on to others.”
When she finished the boot camp, Roxana wanted to move back to Romania and help the young people in her hometown of Cluj in the province of Transylvania. It’s a post-revolution city filled with students with big ideas. And like many cities in Europe, there is rampant unemployment. Roxana wanted to share what she learned in France and help train some of the young people, especially girls, with digital skills so they could be successful and find jobs.
She worked with Simplon to create a pilot project in Romania and has since moved home to work as the manager of the new program. It’s the first Simplon chapter outside of France and is proving to be popular. Roxana is now excitedly reviewing a stack of applications for the first batch of students in the pilot. “Our goal is to teach programming to everyone, and Roxana is helping make that happen,” says Frederic Bardeau, co-founder of Simplon. “With the help of YouthSpark, our first camp trained 50 people from 15 countries. We have a fabulous opportunity to continue to teach underrepresented youth these important skills.”
Roxana hopes the pilot program will spread and Simplon will be available in cities across the globe. Though she is running the program in Romania, she also codes with friends at least one day a week so she stays on top of the skills she learned. Passionate about bikes, she developed an application that maps bike friendly communities and she organizes events with others who love bikes and technology. “I love my job, I couldn’t imagine doing anything else,” Roxana says. “I have lots of energy, don’t know if I will have it forever, so I want to use it now to help people. I have the same agenda as Microsoft, to empower people to do the right thing.”