By Margaret King
By taking Futures programming classes from UC San Diego Extension, Miles Buhain is mastering skills he will need for a career in computer engineering. But he also sees more immediate benefits from the classes, including the possibility of internships and freelance coding jobs.
“I think what I am learning will be very useful in college and in my career,” says Miles, a 10th grader at Morse High School in the Skyline Hills neighborhood of San Diego. “It will also allow me to make side money as I go through school to help pay for my expenses.”
Miles is enrolled in a 9-month series of Futures Front-End Web Development classes that started last September at Jackie Robinson YMCA in Southeast San Diego. The classes moved online in March because of the coronavirus pandemic.
UC San Diego Extension created the Futures program as a pathway for high school students to acquire high-demand career skills. Courses are grouped under headings like Program Your Future for coding and Manage Your Future for business management. Scholarships are available to cover course costs.
Megan Lancaster, Extension’s program manager for Futures, said partnering with YMCA branches allows the program to meet the needs of specific communities. “We are also able to equip students with the skills to give back to their neighbors and community,” she added.
Miles had taken classes at Jackie Robinson YMCA for years through Summerbridge, a program that offers summer classes in STEM subjects and language arts. When he heard about the Futures Front-End Web Development series coming to the Y, he decided to enroll. “I thought it was a good idea because it would offer me job opportunities,” he says.
“Now we’re creating a web portfolio that really shows off our skills,” he adds. His goal is to develop a portfolio that demonstrates his coding abilities to potential employers but also reflects his personality: “I want it to show that not only can I do this and that in terms of programming, but that I’m also adaptable and dynamic.”
Miles especially enjoys the creative, visual aspects of web development. “My favorite thing about the classes is getting to use the computers to create things,” he says. “I can actually show my creativity and show what I can put out into the world.”
For projects like his web portfolio, he says, “implementing all the information is the easy part. The visuals are the harder part, but it’s rewarding if you get it right. Personally, I think that without good visuals and design, a website is nothing.”
The difficulty level of the Futures classes has been just about right for Miles. “It’s challenging, but not so challenging you want to rip your hair out,” he says with a laugh. “It’s a good level of challenging.”
When Miles struggles, assistance is close at hand. “If you say you need help, the instructor is really good about responding,” he notes.
The instructor has also helped students understand which skills are in demand for future careers. “We’ve learned that with the right coding skills, we could get the high-end jobs,” Miles says. In fact, Miles is currently pursuing a coding internship that he learned about through his Futures instructor.
When he finishes high school, Miles hopes to attend a University of California school – maybe Berkeley, UC San Diego or UC Santa Cruz – and major in computer engineering. But if it makes more sense for him financially, he may go to community college first and then transfer to a UC.
In the meantime, he is putting his new knowledge to productive use. “Through Futures, I learned about a competition where designers can submit a website and then get paid for it, and people put ads on it,” he says. “I’m working on that.”
Before the pandemic lockdown, Miles balanced his coding studies with playing on Morse High’s volleyball team and taking part in traditional Filipino dancing. His volleyball practices often fell on the same day as his Futures classes. “Sometimes it is kind of stressful, but it is teaching me to organize my time effectively – and also showing me the consequences of not organizing my time effectively,” he says.
In his free time, Miles enjoys Japanese drift, a style of car racing where drivers intentionally oversteer and lose traction but maintain control of their cars. Miles joined with eight friends to form a drift racing team. “We buy broken down cars and reshape them into supercars,” he says. “It’s exhilarating.”
He has even found a way to use his coding skills in support of his hobby by creating a website for his racing crew.
Miles definitely would recommend Futures classes to fellow students. “They’re a gateway to endless possibilities and also the key to worldly treasure,” he says. “Not only can you be expressive, you can be technical about it, and you can get rewarded very handsomely if you do it right.”
You can learn more about the Futures program on their website.