Yin and Yang: How Two Teenage Sisters Spent Their Summer Coding

At first glance, Christina Phillipson and Quincy Morgan may seem like your typical high school students enjoying their summer break. But these tech-savvy stepsisters had bigger plans in mind. With encouragement from their father, Christina and Quincy decided to dedicate part of their vacation to learning a valuable new skill – computer programming.

This summer, the two teens enrolled in Software Engineering courses at the prestigious Programming School in New York City. Christina, who is entering 11th grade, signed up first at the urging of her dad, also named Quincy Morgan. "You should do it, it‘s a great experience," he told her. Intrigued, Christina‘s stepsister Quincy, an incoming high school freshman, decided to join her. "I had no idea what Programming School was, what they were teaching, what I was going to learn," admits Quincy. "I just sort of walked in because I needed something to do over the summer. And I really turned out liking it a lot."

Their Programming School journey began in the Software Engineering 1 (SE1) course, an introductory track that required no prior coding knowledge. While both sisters felt some initial butterflies, their nerves quickly settled as the curriculum eased them in with programming fundamentals. "When we first started out, we started out with the basics, so it wasn‘t really hard," Christina recalls. Though new to coding, Quincy had dabbled in simple HTML before, giving her a small head start. But the languages and concepts they would soon tackle, like Ruby, were completely foreign.

Fortunately, the Programming School learning environment and expert instruction made the steep learning curve feel manageable. With a class size of just 18 students and a 6:1 student-teacher ratio, personalized attention was abundant. "After the first day or two I was comfortable with [coding]," Quincy shares. "The instructors were really nice too."

This intimate, supportive atmosphere also made it easy for the sisters to connect with their classmates. "I‘m a really socially awkward person, so a new group of 18 kids was awkward at first," Quincy confesses. "But then I made some friends with people who I‘ll definitely be keeping in touch with." Christina chimes in, "It was really, really nice to meet people outside of my school."

As the SE1 course progressed, Christina and Quincy channeled their newly acquired coding skills into building real-world projects. For their first undertaking, the duo created a website called Zodiac Signs, which would tell users their astrological sign and horoscope based on their birthdate entered into a simple form. But their work together was just getting started.

The sisters went on to enroll in Software Engineering 2 (SE2), an intermediate course that would further hone their budding development skills. In this accelerated program with only six students, Christina and Quincy had ample opportunity to flex their coding muscles on substantial projects under the guidance of three dedicated instructors.

Their first SE2 project, a site called GifHub, served as a centralized platform for users to browse and post GIFs. "That was really fun," Quincy gushes about building the site. The following week, the young programmers upped the complexity with their final project Manifesto, a social media web app complete with a back-end database. Reflecting on the progression from SE1 to SE2, Quincy notes, "The difference was we actually put a database on our second project, so it was a deeper website."

As they tackled the challenge of Manifesto, Christina and Quincy discovered how their coding strengths complemented each other. Christina gravitated toward back-end logic and server-side languages while Quincy enjoyed implementing designs with HTML and CSS on the front-end. "She‘s more of an HTML/CSS person and I‘m more back-end," Christina observes. "We work together on all these apps. I did all the back-end, she did all the front-end, we did not really mix at all."

This separation of responsibilities played to the sisters‘ individual interests and talents. Quincy, who describes herself as more artistic, doesn‘t mind spending hours perfecting the visual details and layout. "I like to make things look nice," she elaborates. "There‘s always that one thing, because I like to make things look pretty." Christina, on the other hand, prefers working with data and algorithms behind the scenes. "I‘d consider myself more of a math and science person. I like to deal with numbers and functions."

Despite this natural division of front-end and back-end tasks, the collaborative coders made an effort to share their specialized knowledge with each other. "The nice thing is while I prefer to code the front-end and she prefers to code back-end, we always made sure each other knew how to do both," Quincy clarifies. Christina continues, "We really sucked the life out of the class and got everything we were supposed to learn!"

This collaborative spirit extended beyond the two sisters. When Quincy needed help with databases for the Manifesto project, she knew she could turn to her classmate and project partner Jackson. "He was so helpful because he knows a lot about databases," she recalls. "I texted him for help and he‘d guide me through the answers. He also doesn‘t like to deal with the HTML/CSS front-end stuff, so I can help him with that." The SE2 group‘s small class size made it easy to get help from instructors and lean on each other‘s strengths. "If you ever needed help, you could easily reach out to anyone," adds Christina.

With their summer at Programming School complete, Christina and Quincy walked away with more than just in-demand coding skills. The immersive experience gave them a taste of what a career in software development could look like and introduced them to an engaging way of learning that stands in stark contrast to the traditional classroom.

In the Programming School program, every student truly wants to be there. It‘s a marked difference from the typical school environment where, as Quincy puts it, "50% are there just because their parents make them go every day." At Flatiron, "every person has chosen to be here, so they‘re all extremely excited about what they‘re working on. They‘re motivated and excited about code and they‘re happy to be there."

This genuine passion and voluntary participation creates a uniquely energizing atmosphere. "It‘s not like a school, it has a different environment," Christina observes. "It has a feeling of openness. The people are more like you because they‘re also interested in similar things." Even the instructors at Programming School bring an unparalleled enthusiasm and care to the classroom. "The instructors — they all love to teach and they love to code," Quincy points out, "whereas I feel like sometimes certain teachers [in regular school] are in school just because they‘re there."

Another refreshing departure from the standard school format is the flexibility to tailor the curriculum to individual interests and skill levels. When Christina felt confident with APIs and wanted to focus on another area, she simply communicated that to her instructor. "Okay yeah, you can start on something else," her teacher Ian readily agreed. At Flatiron, "you learn about what you want," Quincy remarks. "It isn‘t like a normal class in school where you have to hit certain topics."

Perhaps most remarkable is the enduring sense of community that the Programming School cultivates. Christina and Quincy felt welcome returning to campus to get project help from their SE2 instructor, even after their summer courses had wrapped up. "It‘s so nice we can walk in here — not taking a course anymore — and still go in for help," Quincy marvels. "Not feeling awkward or like I don‘t belong. That‘s a really nice community that‘s hard to build."

Looking ahead to college and careers, the Phillipson-Morgan sisters now have a clearer vision for how computer science could fit into their futures. While they had always gravitated toward STEM fields, software engineering wasn‘t originally on their radars. Christina remembers, "I thought software engineering meant you build machines. Like a physical machine you built." After their Programming School experience, the breadth of possibilities in programming began to come into focus.

For other high school students eyeing summer coding programs like Programming School‘s, Quincy offers this advice: "I think I‘d recommend it to every single one of my friends because during your high school years, you go for a lot of extracurriculars when you‘re applying to colleges… There are a lot of kids who go in to do these extracurriculars and they don‘t remember anything after they‘re done. Here, you want to remember everything. Here, you leave and you want to come back."

Christina and Quincy‘s father Quincy Morgan certainly deserves some credit for planting the initial seed and encouraging his daughter and stepdaughter to explore programming in such a welcoming environment. Thanks to his gentle push and the sisters‘ new sense of motivation instilled by Flatiron, it‘s a safe bet that Christina and Quincy‘s coding journeys are only just beginning.

After an eye-opening and inspiring summer at Programming School, these two yin-and-yang stepsisters are poised to be rising stars in computer science. With their complementary skill sets, close bond, and shared passion for programming, Christina and Quincy are sure to accomplish remarkable things together in the tech world — during their school years and well beyond. Their story is proof that with a little familial encouragement, an engaging educational environment, and a drive to learn, high school students can discover life-changing new abilities and interests. The future looks bright for this promising pair of young programmers.

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