Editor’s Note: It’s never too early to explore career options for your child or student who is blind or has low vision. APH is proud to bring you The 2022 National Coding Symposium. This is the perfect opportunity for your transition-age student to hear from real people with visual impairments who are thriving in the STEM career paths available to those with computer science backgrounds.
Sean Plumer learned so much about potential careers in computer coding and programming at the 2021 APH National Coding Symposium, he’s already signed up for this year’s event, which runs May 9-13, 2022 online.
A 17-year-old junior in high school, Sean has been interested in computer coding since before he began losing his vision in 8th grade. He and his dad would work on coding together using an Arduino board, which is more hands-on than coding directly on a computer. Then Sean started learning other computer programming languages on his own, using YouTube tutorials.
Sean has been thinking about career options since he started high school, and coding has always been in the top three. His yet-undiagnosed vision condition limits his vision to a very small field, so unless he gets a treatable diagnosis he’s ruled out some of his initial career choices.
But computer coding has remained in the top three on Sean’s list of career aspirations.
Learning about careers in computer technology
When his teacher of the visually impaired (TVI) suggested he attend last year’s Coding Symposium, Sean signed up for three sessions.
“I thought it would be a great opportunity to see how I can get into it more professionally and what else coding has to offer in career choices,” he says.
He attended a session led by one of the people who works for Microsoft on its Seeing AI app, which audibly describes people and objects. He also heard from an employee from Amazon and another from APH about what it’s like to work for the companies, including tips on the interview and hiring process for people who are visually impaired.
“It was pretty cool learning about what you need to interview for a job as a software engineer, and what they expect from you in those kinds of interviews and once you start working,” Sean says. “The symposium reaffirmed this is a solid career choice for me, introduced some new ways to approach it – and it solidified that this is a very, very accessible field of work to go into, which made me feel a lot more confident about keeping it on my list of preferred fields.”
Presenting proof of computer career options
Michael Whapples can attest to how viable computer coding can be as a career since he’s blind himself. A software engineer working for APH for the last eight years, Michael has contributed to BrailleBlaster since the early days of its development, which now includes being responsible for the release and putting it on the website. He just recently started working on a NVDA screen reader.
For the 2022 APH National Coding Symposium, Michael is on a panel about the Python programming language, which was the first one he started with when he began coding.
“It’s a good one to learn because it’s quite easy to start with and it’s a very commonly used language,” he says. “It’s general-purpose so you can use it for almost anything except mobile apps, such as web servers and systems or software development.”
Having lost his sight in college, Michael quickly figured out that coding was a better fit for him than what he was studying: theoretical physics. He was using a braille math app and was having so many problems with it, he decided to find out if he could do better.
“Just by doing that in my spare time, I realized I could produce something useful,” he says. “When do you need theoretical physics every day?”
Michael points out that computer coding is just part of software development, which is why the Coding Symposium is about coding, programming, and more. Most computer coding and programming is text-based, and other than sometimes needing a colleague’s help with the graphical aspects of a website, for example, Michael does the rest of his work independently.
Exploring the future
Sean still isn’t entirely sure what career path he intends to take, but he remains extremely interested in computer coding – and all the options it can offer. That’s why he’s signed up for sessions at this year’s Coding Symposium that will both help him sharpen his current skills and learn new ones.
“It’s always fun to find things you haven’t learned before and to kind of branch out into the field,” he says. “Recently I’ve been looking more into cybersecurity and penetration hacking, so it would be cool to find out what programming languages are involved with that and all the different careers you can choose with a degree in software engineering.”
Sean encourages anyone interested in a coding career to consider attending the Coding Symposium.
“APH is building a sense of community and creating connections you can maintain into college and hopefully going into the workforce,” Sean says. “As someone very new to the community of people who are blind and visually impaired, it’s good to be in a group of people going through similar things that I do. I’m the first and only blind student at my high school, so I often feel like I can’t really relate. But programs like the Coding Symposium that support different career fields and allow a space for people to connect with others like them is super beneficial.”
Interested in attending the 2022 National Coding Symposium, presented by APH and partners? Check out the web page for the agenda, the speakers, and more about everything you can learn. There are also scholarship and award opportunities. The event is virtual, so participants can attend every session or just a few.