#CodingIcon: Alex Qin - Coding it Forward

#CodingIcon is a mini-series from Jewelbots highlighting the amazing women building the things we use everyday.

The tech world is infamous for being hostile and dismissive of women. But open , Alex Qin refuses to back down. 

Inspire an Icon

In her pursuit of an engineering career, Alex has had to overcome many people's perceptions of what it meant to be a "good" engineer, including her own. Despite her hard work and credentials, Alex's appearance often seemed to somehow discredit her skills as a programmer in the eyes of her peers.  For example, on time when on stage of a tech conference talking about her undeniable expertise, the first question she received was "How do I pick up women at bars?" 

This kind of treatment caused Alex to almost give up on being an engineer multiple times. Nevertheless, she persisted, and worked to take the hardest computer courses, built a women in tech support network, and become a general coding super star! 

After the 'picking up women' comment, Alex was furious and took the advice of one of her friends and shaved her hair. And overnight, she magically became a  "good coder". Without the feminine appearance, Alex's voice was suddenly heard by others.

From this experience, Alex wanted to make a difference for people like her who have great abilities, but aren't heard because they might fit into the mold of what a 'real coder' looks like. This led her to go on to teach and mentor. She cares deeply about access to computer science education and using tech to help create positive social change!

Is the Director of Technology at Gakko, where she recently launched Code Forward, an afterschool program in which high schoolers learn to code and build an app that solves an issue in their community.
Before joining Gakko, she founded the code cooperative, an educational program that teaches former inmates to code to support their prison reentry. Before that, she was the web engineering team lead at Skillshare, and the curriculum director at Coalition for Queens, a free programming school for adults of underrepresented backgrounds in tech. Alex has also taught with many computer science education programs, including ScriptEd, Women Who Code, and Technovation.

She says that "We need to stop thinking that there is only one type of person who can be excellent at programming." Greatness and achievement can come from anywhere; especially when given a safe space and support to learn!

Alex Qin
Name: Alex Qin (pronounced “tchin”)
Fun Fact: She's originally from Paris, France!
Github: noidontdig

What's your position at work?

I am the Director of Technology at Gakko, which is my dream job. I am opening a school where people learn to code so that they can create positive social change.
Gakko is a global education organization that aims to reclaim the magic of learning. High schoolers from around the world come together to learn at our immersive summer camps, and now at our permanent learning space in NYC. Gakko NYC offers afterschool programs in music and technology, in which our students either record an album or build an app! 

Who are/were your role models?

The radical women in tech who have forged their own path to create a better world for the rest of us. For example: Sara Chipps, Ope Bukola (who introduced me to teaching), Amélie Lamont, Catt Small, Caroline Sinders, Maurya Couvares, Ellen Pao.

 Picture of Alex after shaving her hair.

How old were you when you learned to code?

I learned to code Freshman year of college at NYU. At the time, I wanted to be an astronaut, so I joined the Engineering program. One of the required classes for the program was “Introduction to programming in Python.” I fell in love with code after my first class, and immediately decided to major in Computer Science.  

How did you learn?

I decided early on that I was going to be a great coder. So I took all the hardest Computer Science classes in the program and I joined the NYU Association for Computing Machinery, as well as the NYU competitive programming team. I developed strong relationships with my professors so I could go to them for help when I needed it. Most importantly, I worked on as many coding projects as possible outside of school. The best way to learn to code is to find a project you are passionate about and build it.  

Alex is an inspirational mentor and educator in tech!

What's your favorite part of being a coder?

I love coding as a craft. It allows me to be creative and analytical all at once. I get to solve puzzles and build awesome things. But my favorite part of being a coder is that it allows me to share my passion for code with others. I love teaching people to code because of how empowering and fun they find it. The moment when a student realizes “Wow… I can build anything!” always melts my heart. My mission is to enable people from all backgrounds to learn to code so that they can build the solutions to the problems they see in the world.


The full talk about Alex's story of shaving her head as a female programmer.