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KCJ Catches up with... Lei Lopez

One KCJ volunteer’s path into tech, and tips on guiding the next generation.

Claudia Feochari
11 November 2020

In this new series, members of the Kids Code Jeunesse (KCJ) team will be interviewing some of the amazing innovators, educators and leaders in our ecosystem. These great minds will discuss education, technology and what the future holds … as well as share stories from their own lives.

We kick off with Claudia Feochari, an inspiring young woman in tech who has played an important role on KCJ’s data team for the past 2 years, after volunteering with Code Club as an Instructor. She caught up with Lei before returning to school to study a Masters in UX.

Lei Lopez has always had a soft spot for the intersection of education and technology. A developer employed at Shopify for 4 years, Lei’s passion for programming blossomed when she was an Undergraduate student.

It all started when her friends in Math & Physics took an Introduction to Programming class and told her about the interesting computer games they were creating for their assignments. This passion led her to move to the Computer Science Program; then to volunteer with Kids Code Jeunesse back in 2014.

Claudia (above) and Lei caught up over a video call.

Claudia (above) and Lei caught up over a video call.

Inspiring children through her passion for Technology and Education

Lei has always had a huge desire to work with children and teach them about technology. Before volunteering for KCJ, she was a camp counselor at a children’s creative computing camp on the West Coast. During her time there, she worked with children to create flash games and animation projects with Blender.

Lei has always felt that:

“[Technology is a] power-up skill because I think it actually helps every other industry. It helps many facets of life and so it's really like a superpower you can teach kids.”

Initially, Lei started studying at McGill University, majoring in Biology. After being convinced by her friends taking the programming class, Lei switched her major to join them. She was then introduced to KCJ through a computer science class.

Volunteering at KCJ solidified the fact that being an educator was Lei’s true passion.

After graduating from McGill, Lei landed a job as a developer at Shopify. Although Shopify provided lots of perks and growth opportunities, Lei did not feel fully content.

After almost 5 years in the industry, and 4 years at Shopify, Lei decided to leave her job to pursue a more impactful role teaching computer science at Dawson College. She saw the role advertised by a fellow former KCJ volunteer, Maja.

Lei didn’t hesitate to jump into this opportunity to work in the educational aspect of technology. She is very excited to start this Fall semester, where her students will include Sophia, eldest daughter of KCJ CEO, Kate Arthur!

Artificial Intelligence, Coding and Digital Citizenship - oh my!

Artificial intelligence is constantly evolving and will continue to evolve in generations to come. Lei mentioned that:

“[AI] is an empowering thing like coding, it's empowering to know what impacts it will have. It’s versatile [as it] can be used for educational reasons, health reasons, climate reasons and harnessed for stuff we care about.”

Lei is most excited about the evolution of data journalism, and how AI will evolve in data analysis.

In the past, without AI, “we wouldn’t have access to [large data sets] or not be able to process [this data]”. For example, AI can analyse the disparity between the sizes of men’s and women’s jean pockets, gender in literature, and the amount of swearing in pop music.

Digital citizenship has become very important during this time of uncertainty - most of KCJ’s workshops have been moved online to be taught in a webinar format.

Digital citizenship has a special meaning to Lei. It resonates with her parents’ immigration to Canada from the Philippines, and the process they went through to become citizens. Lei thinks it’s important that people understand digital education in a global online context:

“It’s important for everyone to be empowered [on digital citizenship] and about privacy laws and how [people] should be educating themselves about this and how to be good and kind to each other.”

Looking forward to 2030

Unsurprisingly, Lei most strongly identifies with Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4: Quality Education. For Lei’s parents, their main goal for immigrating to Canada was to ensure educational opportunities for their children:

“Education for [my parents] was a way to have a better life - [more specifically] for me and my sister to have a better life.”

Lei was grateful for the opportunity to have an education, as that is not the case for a lot of girls around the world.

In conjunction with quality education for all, Lei is passionate about SDG 2: Zero Hunger. It is very hard for children to learn on an empty stomach, since food is necessary to fuel the brain for learning. Hunger is a problem even here in Montreal, since not all kids come to school with a full stomach or a packed lunch.

The SDGs are just part of an ongoing process of improvement. Lei emphasized how important it is to acknowledge that technology is constantly evolving:

“What [students] are learning in school is probably going to be out of date by the time they are out of school and are embarking on a learning journey. You are never going to stop learning.”

The same applies to teachers as well. Teachers need to “teach and need to learn how to learn - that's a very important skill”.

With new technology, it can be hard for teachers to keep up with the fast pace of change. Teachers are aware of the fact that they can’t always keep up with the latest technologies so it encourages further learning for them as well.

Empowering young women & girls in STEM

Aware that girls are sometimes discouraged from pursuing study in a STEM field, Lei believes that young women should listen to themselves more and forget what society expects of women. Although, she acknowledged that women in STEM sometimes feel pressure to represent an idealized version of all women in STEM.

Lei’s take home advice is that women should always listen to their inner voice and reflect on what really matters to them - and where they feel they would have the most impact in their lives. There is no one way to do things correctly and there is not one path that everyone should take.

Conformity in society to norms causes people to feel unhappy and stuck. People - especially girls who want to study and work in tech - should listen to themselves and pursue what makes them happy. Lei is taking her own advice by leaving her prestigious tech job at Shopify and pursuing a career as an educator at Dawson College.

Feeling inspired by the power of women in STEM, and want to help inspire the next generation? Why not start your own Code Club! New clubs who register before December 18, 2020 receive a free set of micro:bits - so there’s no better time to get started! You can learn more on the Code Club Canada website.

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