By Margaret King
Taking Android Programming classes through UC San Diego Extension’s Futures program didn’t just sharpen Alexis Vergnet’s coding skills. The classes also gave him a chance to showcase his creative side.
“I really liked the fact that we had the freedom to choose what projects we wanted to do,” says Alexis, a junior at Mission Bay High School who recently completed a series of courses on developing apps for Android devices. “Maybe I’m not an artist, but I can express myself with an app.”
Futures was created by UC San Diego Extension in partnership with community members and industry experts to allow high school students to acquire skills needed for the jobs of the future. Courses are grouped under headings like Program Your Future for coding and Manage Your Future for business management.
Alexis completed a year-long series of five classes held on Saturdays at Extension’s University City Center. Going forward, Futures is offering shorter three-course programs lasting 8 to 9 months. Students who finish a program receive an award of completion and Extension credits. Scholarships are available to cover course costs.
Alexis spent his early years in France, in a small town near Nice. When he was 10, his family moved to San Diego, and he picked up English by “total immersion.” After taking some very basic computer classes, he decided to get more serious about learning to program.
“A lot of people in my family are good at coding, and I really wanted to learn to code, but I wasn’t sure how to start,” he says. “At first I tried to learn online, but I didn’t get too far.”
When his mother told him about Futures, Alexis considered taking the iOS Programming series, but he settled on Android Programming instead. “I have an Android phone, so I wanted to be able to program apps I could use,” he says. “Also, I heard that Android is easier, so that’s where I decided to start.”
Students began by coding extremely simple apps and then added news skills in each class. “In the third class we started using Android Studio,” Alexis says. “We could see the apps on a virtual phone, and we could see the things we coded put into action. That was the most interesting part for me.”
Alexis and his classmates practiced their skills by re-creating familiar apps such as Snapchat, Instagram and Spotify.
“It was really fun,” Alexis says. “We could listen to music through our own version of Spotify.”
But his favorite project was a quiz app. “We could create a quiz about pretty much anything,” he says. “We had a lot of freedom with just a couple of constraints. It allowed us to be creative and make whatever we wanted. Everyone had different things that they were working on.”
As he mastered new skills, Alexis kept upgrading his quiz app. He’s a science buff who likes to watch YouTube videos about new discoveries, so he incorporated science concepts into his app. “That way, when my friends would use the quiz app, they would learn something from it,” he says.
He didn’t have time to turn all of his ideas into reality during the classes, so he kept a list of app ideas for future development, including some inspired by his interest in protecting the environment. “For instance, many times I find myself not knowing which trash can an item goes in, so I had an idea to create an app that would scan the item and tell you where it should go,” he says.
Alexis found the Futures classes challenging, but in a good way. “I find challenging things attractive,” he explains. “It’s not fun to get things on the first try. Sometimes I had to do projects a couple times and go seek help from the teacher, but that made the projects more fulfilling.”
Alexis maintains a full schedule of sports and activities. He plays on his school’s volleyball team and also does Taekwondo and tricking, a training discipline that combines flips from gymnastics with moves from breakdancing.
He was on Mission Bay High’s Science Olympiad team last year, and he also helped start an engineering club that takes part in design competitions. Last April, the club entered a designathon at UC San Diego to come up with ideas for a major hub on the new trolley line being built to campus. Alexis’s group was the only high school team in the competition, yet they emerged as one of five winners.
The Futures classes made it easier for Alexis to learn new programming languages such as Python and C, which helped him in his engineering club. His new skills also proved useful when he took part in a project sponsored by Ocean Aero and the Maritime Alliance to create a sampling device to collect seawater at certain GPS locations.
His experience in Futures is also giving him an edge as he takes on courses like AP Computer Science and International Baccalaureate Engineering HL (higher level) in school. “Thanks to the UC classes, things are much, much easier,” he says. “I have already done some of the things we are learning.”
Amid all his activities, Alexis sometimes struggled to find time for his Futures classes. “For me it was extremely hard to have a balance between the coding classes, sports, school and having fun,” he says.
Based on his experience, he thinks students should consider enrolling in Futures classes earlier. “I would definitely recommend taking it as a freshman so you don’t have the workload of sophomore year or junior year,” he says.
Alexis is still pondering his college and career options. “I want to do something in either science and engineering, but my idea of what job I want to do when I’m older has been changing every month or so,” he says with a laugh.
One idea is to combine his programming skills with his interest in the environment. “Coding is a very important skill to have,” he says. “We’re moving more and more into a tech era, so tomorrow’s jobs are going to be about coding, and they’re also going to be about protecting the environment. I think if I could use coding to protect the environment, that would be awesome.”