Students hone computer skills at School of Information’s Coding Commons

Jameson Pitts

In a distant computer lab, after classes have ended and the doors to the building are locked, a small group of students hunch over their monitors — together, they’re learning to code. Coding Commons gives students a space to learn technical computer skills from each other and experts while working together on projects for professional development.

Wednesday’s meeting hosted students from a cross section of UT disciplines, including graduate students, a biology student whose dream job is at Google and aerospace engineering freshman Jose Guillen.

“I talked to SpaceX at [the engineering career] expo, and they were saying they want you to know multiple languages,” Guillen said. “I have absolutely no experience, so I just want to get that head start before everyone else.”

The program is hosted by the UT chapter of the Association of Information Science and Technology, a student organization housed within the School of Information.

Sandra Sweat, School of Information graduate student and co-director of the organization, said each Coding Commons session offers a new challenge for students to work on cooperatively, while bringing in resources and experts to help. Projects range from using the command line to reassembling a laptop.

“It’s based on the idea of a learning commons where everybody is learning together,” Sweat said. “For our more advanced users, this type of space would be for them to work on personal projects and talk out their problems together.”

Matt Lease, the faculty advisor for the organization, said the program helps students from all disciplines build computing fluency and make themselves more employable. He said the gender imbalance in the computer science field shows the traditional classroom culture might be off-putting to women, but the Coding Commons group dynamic offers an alternative. Although membership in the club is open to anyone, women occupy all the leadership positions of UT ASIS&T and its sister organization, Advocating for Women in Technology.

“This is a really wonderful channel for women in particular to get involved in learning more about these technologies,” Lease said.

School of Information graduate student Elizabeth Taylor said she made it a point to come weekly to supplement her coursework.

“There’s an informal and welcoming atmosphere where I feel comfortable asking questions,” Taylor said.