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Opportunity Nation and Want to Foster Technical Skills

by Marquis Cabrera   •’s mission is to expand computer and coding skills in schools across the U.S.. founder Hadi Partovi told in Feb. 2013 that “basic computer programming is so easy that fifth-graders can learn it, yet only 10 percent of schools teach it, and only nine states recognize it for graduation credit. Learning to code unlocks creative thinking and opens unparalleled career options. Coding is the new American Dream and should be available to everybody, not just the lucky few.”

In light of’s ‘Learn to Code’ viral video, I want to share: Opportunity Nation has been working with policymakers to develop an Enterprising Pathways Innovation Program to fund career and technical education programs. One such program gave me the opportunity to learn to code while in high school, a skill that has enabled me to advance more quickly in my career.

As a student at Middletown High School in New York, I was an inaugural member of a four-year National Academy Foundation program: The Academy of Information Technology (AoIT).  The demanding AoIT curriculum included courses, such as history of the Internet, computer programming, web design, and multimedia production.

During my summer internship with The Enlarged City School District of Middletown in 2007, I developed a computer program that produced guest and student passes with images that scanned in real-time to improve school district security.  We even learned how to disassemble and reassemble desktop computers.  I learned about public data networks, graphical user interface (GUI) and Steve Case’s role in revolutionizing the Internet in his position with AOL.  That is why I am honored to have been selected as Microsoft’s YouthSpark Changemaker via The Case Foundation’s Finding Fearless Campaign.

My high school was recently recognized as the only New York State School to win Race To The Top Funding for using technology to “prepare [students] to excel in a modernized job market.”  My four years spent in the Academy of Information Technology, coupled with lessons learned from NJROTC and the influence of positive adult role models, helped me to develop a strong moral character before heading to Northeastern University in 2007.

In college, I skipped most of my required computer science courses and only went to class to take test and labs.  Instead, I pulled course materials from MITOpenCourseWare’s online Product Design and Development course and grappled with new materials.  My reason was simple: I had already learned how to use basic Microsoft Office applications. In 2009, I was selected to be a White House Intern. I had the chance to visit the White House Chief Technology Officer (CTO) and ogle new technologies to track government expenditures of department agencies. 

In 2011, working as a consultant at Wayfair, the Amazon of home furnishing, I pulled materials from the internal university to learn Google analytics and SQL. And just last year I surprised my boss at Wefunder — crowd investing for start ups — when performing quality assurance for investor profiles.  I also taught myself Ruby programming language. I am a tech geek who recognizes that innovative technologies can be used as a vehicle to bring about the change I want to see in the world.

As a successful foster care alum, I founded and am now Chairman of Foster Skills, Inc; a skills-focused mentoring program to help foster youth gain more access to college and opportunities in the workforce.

During The 2012 Opportunity Nation Conference breakout sessions, I spoke with corporate leaders who want to hire at-risk youth for technical jobs but cannot quantify desired domain skill sets (like coding). Foster Skills will use Smarterer’s skills tests and measuring platform to pilot a program intended to create more pathways to the workforce for foster kids. In addition, we will be engaging LinkedIn to have conversations about using their platform to build an online community that connects successful foster care alum with youth who are aging out. If successful, our model could be used to help all at-risk youth. 

I truly believe that disruptive technologies like Smarterer and LinkedIn have the power to change the world. I realize that the tech community can bring about change at a much faster rate and hope throughout my career to continue figuring out how to use technology to ‘Innovate For Good’.

Marquis Cabrera

Opportunity Scholar

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