Andrew playing the guitar

Andrew Kao

drewcodes@gmail.com

Bronx FreeCodeCamp

Bringing code and programming to the underserved community of the Bronx!


Members of the Bronx FreeCodeCamp Study Group with myself.

Visit the Bronx FreeCodeCamp Study Group Page


 

There are numerous coding, development and programming groups scattered all over New York City. Most of them are located in Manhattan and/or within college campuses and universities. There are developer groups that specialize in WordPress, React.js, Javascript, Python and more. You just had to find one of them online or check your Meetup app to see when their next meeting was.

Unlike Manhattan, the Bronx had maybe one developer group. There would occasionally be special events that taught people to code, but it would be for only a few weeks and then wrap up. Seeing that there weren’t too many options, I decided to trek into Manhattan to meet with local aspiring developers learning a curriculum from Free Code Camp.

I packed my messenger bag with my laptop, a charger and a Metrocard and headed to the East Village to meet with a Facebook study group called the New York City FreeCodeCamp Group.

The group routinely met at coffee shops to work on coding together. Upon arriving, I met with some friendly and laid back people who were super welcoming and knowledgeable about code. I hung out with one of the group’s leaders, Mike, who sat me down and shared some Javascript resources with me. All the members were deep in critical thinking while working through their projects, as I began to wonder why something like this didn’t exist in the Bronx?

 

Early Days…

I followed the New York City FreeCodeCamp Group on Facebook for a while before I even attended my first meeting. I guess it must’ve been something in the universe calling because suddenly someone in the group proposed the idea of starting a study group in the Bronx. Other members quickly responded with interest and the scheduling of the first meeting was underway!

Unfortunately, due to being unavailable, I couldn’t attend the first few initial meetings. One of the group members started a dedicated Bronx FreeCodeCamp Study Group on Facebook and I decided to follow the group to check on their next meeting.

 

 

Then one day in December, I finally made it to a meeting. A study group in the Bronx! I was just excited that I get the chance to sit down and work on code with others without commuting all the way to Manhattan.

Except when I walked in, there were just only two other people there.

Wait. What?

 

If You Host It, They Will Come…

After talking to the other two members, it became apparent that the meetings weren’t as consistent as they had hoped for. The initial group of members who started this group seem to have abandoned the project altogether. I was a bit bummed because I was hoping to work with some more advanced developers and learn a thing or two. The other two members were in the same boat. Despite this apparent failure, we agreed that we were interested in continuing the group and would continue to meet if at least two people attended.

For the next few weeks, it literally was just another member and myself. We didn’t mind it so much since we were able to pair program together and work through some projects. We also came up with clever ways of keeping ourselves accountable with learning something new about web technologies each week and sharing it for discussion.

As time went on, we began announcing our weekly meetings in hopes that others would come and join us. We tried to select a favorable day of the week and time slot that would accommodate most members. In just a few short months, the group was quickly growing, leading to more members expressing interest to attend our weekly meetings. The Bronx’s Coffee n’ Code sessions finally became more than just a two person meeting. We were soon hosting events for a dozen or more people.

 

 

Be The Type of Leader You’d Want to See

Having come from a leadership position in my e-commerce background, I felt that it was necessary to sustain a great relationship with our members. It’s sometimes hard, or awkward, to meet new people and talk about new topics that you’re unsure of. I made it a point to share stories about my learning experiences and spend time getting to know new members who were attending for the first time.

This eventually led to me teaching new aspiring developers how to get started with developing and programming. I soon became a “Code Counselor” that would help some of our members navigate through the Front End Web Development Program on FreeCodeCamp.org. Not only was I able to help others learn code, but it furthered my understanding of web technologies and programming in Javascript. I owe a good portion of my proficiency with web development to teaching others and I recommend that other developers should do the same.

Later in 2016, the group became so large that we started doing two meetings each week just to accommodate members with different schedules. The meetings rotated between two local coffee shops and a mall food court.

The food court location turned out to be amazing for our members because it was accessible by public transportation, access to food for members who were getting out of work, free WiFi and plenty of seats and tables for everyone.

By the end of 2016, I received an e-mail from The Microsoft Store of Westchester asking if the study group was interested in hosting an event at their store. The store’s event coordinator offered to host any of our meetings, provide free snacks and drinks as well as access to their laptops, tablets and video games.

Sounded totally awesome for a nerd like me.

I shared the news with the group, which was met with much enthusiasm and led to us holding a few of our meetings at the Microsoft Store. The store’s staff was super friendly, generous and welcoming. We even had access to a projector to use for presentations!

 

Moving Forward

As of today, the Bronx FreeCodeCamp Study Group boasts 350+ members and continues to grow. Our group leaders are still hosting Coffee n’ Code meetings and we recently added virtual meetings via Google Hangouts. The study group continues to provide a place for Bronx residents and developers to meet, share code, pair program and learn together. I am very proud of our study group and what we’ve accomplished over the last couple of years together. If you’re ever in the Bronx, I encourage you to stop by and join us for a Coffee n’ Code session!