Hi Brian! Tell us a little about yourself.
My name is Brian Clanton, and I’m a software engineer. I work at a company called Descript which is a media editing tool company. We transcribe audio and then you can edit that audio by editing the transcript, which is a bit different from other companies doing this work. A lot of clients use us for podcasts or social video. I joined that company pretty early on but we’ve grown a lot.
Where are you from?
I grew up in Silver Spring, Maryland and then made my way to San Francisco in 2015. Before Descript, I worked at Zynga for about 3 years. I went to college in upstate New York at the Rochester Institute of Technology, and I got a Bachelors and Masters in game design development, so my background was in building games which is why I went to work at Zynga after college.
How did you find out about volunteering at Code Nation?
It’s a funny story. I actually ran into an acquaintance at a game development conference in 2018 at one of the after parties, and her friend was a program manager at Code Nation so we got in contact and I started in the fall of 2018. This is my fifth school year volunteering with Code Nation. I’d been looking for volunteer opportunities, and had done a few one-off things, but I wanted to do something that was more consistent where I’d be able to develop a relationship with students. Code Nation was a great opportunity to do that since it’s for the whole school year.
Why do you keep choosing to come back and volunteer with Code Nation?
I feel like I learn something new each year. There’s new challenges. The classes are always different and I think it’s really helped with my teaching abilities as well as my communication skills outside of Code Nation.
This fifth year has been particularly fun because I’m helping out with the Fellowship program, which is with students who have completed the Intro class. We get to dig in a bit deeper with the students and there’s a lot of hunger for learning more code. They’ve been asking me questions that take me longer to answer, so it’s been a great challenge!
When I was starting in my first year with Code Nation, I had to get comfortable with stepping in front and leading the flow of the class, but that’s smoothed out over the years and I’m excited to come back each year.
What is it like working with students?
In my first year with Code Nation, I think what was most impactful was seeing students learning to code for the first time – and while they struggled through parts, seeing them overcome that and be excited about it was amazing. As we got further into the program and they gained more skills, seeing students personalizing their websites and projects and adding their own touch – they would get really inspired and it’s so awesome to see.
It was also very cool to see students open up over time, especially when they started the class being more closed off, and then being excited to ask questions – or answer questions – or even going beyond that and helping out their peers. They gain more confidence as the year progresses, and it’s really rewarding to see that every year I’ve volunteered.
What have you learned from students?
In general, what’s interesting for me is being in a position teaching concepts for the first time to students when you’ve learned those things over 10 years ago. I’ve gained a new perspective on what it’s like to learn something new again.
Why is diversity in the tech industry important?
I think building diversity in tech manifests in a bunch of different ways. But I think first and foremost, it’s really important for the students to see that they can operate in those spaces. A lot of Code Nation is about building skills, but it’s also about exposure for students to these concepts, and giving them access to people who work professionally in tech so they can ask questions and even see themselves in those people.
In order to have more representation in tech, we need to start early so that students are seeing these opportunities at a young age, so when they do go off to college – or something else – they know that a tech career is an option. A lot of companies will try to hire diverse employees but they find the pool isn’t very large, so one of the best things we can do is start at the earlier part of the funnel, which Code Nation does very well.
I think I understood from an early age how important exposure is because I had similar experiences when I was around that age. I participated in some extracurriculars about gaming and programming in high school and it opened my eyes to the possibilities there, and ultimately put me on my path. Code Nation resonated with me because it felt like it would be a similar experience, but instead of a club or an extracurricular activity, Code Nation is offering the class in school which allows for a deeper connection with the students every week.
A few years back, we did a field trip with Code Nation students to a finance company. And I was talking with some of the students and they sort of noted that there weren’t that many people that looked like them there. That stoked a conversation about representation in the tech space. It’s something I already knew, but it was powerful to hear it from the students and talk about it together. I think it makes a huge difference when students see people who look like them navigating those tech spaces because it’s really the first thing you notice in a space, and it might not be apparent to folks who are not underrepresented in those industries.
What are the top skills you’ve seen students develop in their Code Nation classes?
Communication skills are huge. We focus a lot on getting students to ask questions when they need help, but also develop the skill to ask good or guiding questions. And so we see that develop over the course of the school year. It’s of course helpful for coding, but it’s also a good skill to have as you grow in the world.
I think that Code Nation is a great opportunity, not only because of the impact you have on kids but also because of the personal growth I’ve had. Being in a space every week, explaining concepts to students, and really guiding them has made me a better community. I’ve used those skills professionally and personally so I really value that and I can’t think of anything else that provides that comprehensive of an experience.
This post is part of our #10YearsOfCodeNation celebration. We’re sharing the stories of our people: students, alums, volunteers, partners, and the committed staff who bring our vision to life.