Rebecca Novak, A10, founding member of ScriptEd, says 73% of its alumni are on track for a career in tech – studying CS or a related field in college or currently working in the field. ScriptEd won first place in the Social Impact track in the 2014 100k New Ventures Competition.
What kind of traction have you had since graduation? What are your current goals? How did you become involved with ScriptEd?
I started my career as a special education teacher and Teach for America corps member at an elementary public school in San Francisco, California. I earned my MA in Education from Alliant International University and participated in an intensive teacher coaching program with Columbia Teachers College. I taught for three years, which was an incredibly rewarding experience: I learned a lot from my students and some wonderful colleagues, and, since I’m originally from the Bay Area, I found it particularly meaningful to be doing this work where I’m from.
However, my time in the classroom was very challenging. In 2012-13, my last year in the classroom, California ranked #50 of all states in per-pupil funding. I sat on our school site council and had to help decide where to make cuts. One year, we cut the entire budget for pencils and paper. San Francisco is one of the wealthiest cities in the nation, largely as a result of the tech industry – however that wealth and opportunity doesn’t trickle down into the public schools. I couldn’t see a future where my students (or even, my colleagues!) could attain jobs and salaries that would enable them to remain in the Bay Area long term. We had a computer lab, but we didn’t teach computer skills – students used the computers primarily to play remedial math games.
In 2013, I moved to New York City, where I met Maurya Couvares, who had just started working on ScriptEd full time. I joined her as the second member of the team, and over the past five years we have led ScriptEd to grow to serve 1,200 students a year. We’re currently running 46 ScriptEd classes in New York City, and in 2016 I moved back home to the Bay Area to start ScriptEd, where we’ve more than 200 students enrolled in programs in San Francisco and Oakland.
Our goal is to equip youth attending under resourced high schools to access technology careers. We do that by providing a rigorous, long-term pipeline of support, starting with a full-year coding class taught at a school site by professional software developers on a volunteer basis. Students then progress into advanced classes, high school internships, and eventually careers in the tech industry. Not only do we aim to provide students with opportunities for economic fulfillment, we also aim to bridge the divide between the tech industry and the cities companies inhabit. If we’re successful, we believe we’ll decrease cultural and economic disparity by ensuring companies represent the communities they thrive in.
We’ve experienced incredible success thus far. 73% of our alumni are on track for a career in tech – studying CS or a related field in college or currently working in the field. This is compared to 1% of students that have historically achieved these outcomes in the communities we serve. We’ve built a stellar community around our work, including industry leaders like Atlassian, GitHub, Google, Etsy, Salesforce, Mozilla, and others.
We have aspirations to grow – our big goal is that in the next 10 years we will prepare 20,000 students for the tech workforce, generating $1B in incremental annual income for students & their families.
What’s the biggest challenge you have encountered working at ScriptEd?
I feel like I encounter challenges every day – perhaps the biggest challenge is actually just the volume of challenges! My time teaching taught me that there is always a solution, and to stay cool under pressure, so I think I’m generally able to stay quite positive, but when you’re a young, quickly growing organization – and especially when you’re working with schools – things generally don’t go according to plan, so you have to be quite ready to think on your feet.
What are the major trends and opportunities in education you’re most excited about?
There is an entire movement around computer science education for all that didn’t exist in 2012. In the past six years, we’ve seen a wellspring of organizations like ScriptEd tackling this problem from all sorts of angles – including some that, like us, prepare students with job-ready skills, others that focus on teacher training and curriculum, others that are focusing on national policy change. There are brilliant minds working on this problem, and I’m hopeful that in the next 20 years all students, not just those fortunate enough to attend certain schools or to have software engineers in their family, will have substantive access to 21st century job skills.
What do you know now that you wish you would have known earlier (a decade ago)?
I wish I’d taken an Econ class at Tufts! I didn’t because my Arabic classes were too hard already, but now I really regret it!
It has also taken me at least a decade to realize that, at least half the time, there isn’t a right answer to a problem and that sometimes waiting too long to decide something becomes a problem in and of itself. Sometimes, especially in a start-up, you just have to make a decision, and then handle whatever happens as a result. Of course, it is important to choose thoughtfully, and do research, and solicit advice for major quandaries – but sometimes it’s impossible to know what the best choice, or maybe there is no best choice, in which case – you just have to decide!
What is one piece of advice you have for Tufts students who are interested in or are starting their venture now?
Find collaborators who you love working with, who have strengths that you don’t have. Being part of a team that has a really strong shared vision, that can work really well together, is crucial. It’s not only something that funders and investors look for, it’s something that will keep you sane.
What other information can you share with students that you regret not knowing while in college?
Talk to your professors and go to their office hours. Find out what about all of the cool programs that Tufts offers as soon as you can, and get involved. I didn’t talk to my professors, because I was shy, nor did I do anything with the Tisch College, the Ex College, the Communications & Media Studies until senior year and that is a major regret of mine. There are so many cool organizations (sometimes with summer funding opportunities!) that you should investigate. Also – I did know this, but everyone else should too – go see Traveling Treasure Trunk shows! They’re the funniest group on campus.