Behind the Scenes of the Coding World with Jasika Bawa

Microsoft employee Jasika Bawa is proof that coding is cool. Photo courtesy of Jasika Bawa.

Microsoft employee Jasika Bawa is proof that coding is cool. Photo courtesy of Jasika Bawa.

Lucy Arnold, Editor in Chief

Computers and associated technology are practically omnipresent at PHS and in modern society in general, but a number of stereotypes surround the people and systems that make it all happen. Jasika Bawa, a Teacher’s Assistant in this year’s debut AP Computer Science class, defies the stereotypes and exemplifies the numerous rewards and fulfillments of a computer science career.

Bawa first gained connection to the PHS computer science program through an organization called Technology Education and Literacy in Schools (TEALS). TEALS seeks to expand computer science and coding immersion by pairing professionals like Bawa, Jason Lowden, and Jeffrey Booth (the three fabulous TAs of the CS class) with Jennifer Nichols, the class teacher. In the case of the PHS class and others across the nation, the professional TAs and the teacher team-teach the course.

Adjusting to grading homework and tests and to being available to help students during classtime proved to be a positive and rewarding endeavor for Jasika. Over the summer, she spent time preparing for teaching the curriculum and connecting with Nichols and the other TAs, sometimes even doing homework assignments to gain familiarity with the nature of the material. Afterwards, teaching became more routine.

“Once school started, I’d join the class on Monday and Tuesday mornings while the other TA’s took responsibility for the latter half of the week. After working with the class, I head straight into the office to start my day, and I mostly try to fit grading and assistance on Piazza (the main classroom website and forum) into the evenings and weekends,” said Bawa.

The biggest adjustment and challenge, however, was adapting to teaching a whole class remotely. Many classes include a master Skype call between the TA and the class, and then also feature individual calls between TAs and students in need of help with labs or assignments. Over the course of the year, Bawa feels that the calls have become less awkward and that students are more comfortable reaching out. She looks forward to next year and the progress that will come with it.

“I’ve loved my first year being a TEALS TA and I am excited to say that I am committed to coming back as a TA next year!” said Bawa. “For me personally, this is now a matter of being invested in the computer science program at Peninsula in particular, and wanting to be around to watch it grow.”

Bawa feels this connection to the growing program at PHS partly because computer science has proved so valuable to her life and education. As early as her fifth grade year, she wrote code loops and felt the power of computer science and how much it could do.

“Imagine being able to automate away a boring repetitive task with just a few lines of code! I’ve always been a fan of clarity and determinism, and computer science was one of the few subjects I found to unequviocally offer me what I was looking for,” said Bawa.

In high school, Jasika’s education mostly focused on the C++ programming language, and her crowning achievement of that time was the creation of a game that offered players the opportunity to unlock a geometry-problem-solving program to help them with homework. Still, the best was yet to come.

“College computer science was really where things got challenging and rewarding from both a learning perspective as well as the point of view of opening up a ton of opportunities for me during as well as after my college tenure,” said Bawa, who graduated from Princeton University in 2012 with a degree in electrical engineering and a certificate in computing and technology policy.

Sure enough, Bawa’s experiences and achievements in high school and college helped her to land a career as a Program Manager at Microsoft. At Microsoft, she has worked on Windows and Internet Explorer security features, and more recently, she has delved into secure biometrics (with an emphasis on face and iris recognition) for Windows 10.

“This is a feature that allows us to take one step closer to a world in which we no longer have a reliance on passwords – a really exciting goal that helps me get out of bed and pumped for work in the morning!” said Bawa.

Having found so much fulfillment and success in the tech and computer science world, Bawa wants to welcome any student who is considering a computer science class “to a unique and interesting combination of frustration and reward that isn’t commonly found in a lot of other classes in high school.”

She also has a very interesting and inspiring perspective on the demand for women and girls in computer science.

“Encouraging girls to get involved in computer science at an early age is something I am extremely passionate about.” said Bawa. “I believe that no girl should ever feel like she needs to stay away from computer science because she doesn’t feel like she ‘fits in.’ There is no one correct mold for a computer science girl, just as there isn’t for any one boy or girl in any profession!”

Bawa herself is the perfect example. She loves pink, cupcakes, cats, and dramatic TV shows, and she is close friends with one woman who is an avid motorcyclist and marathoner and with another who is a fashionista and mother of two with over 20 years of experience in her field. Both women are computer scientists.

“Imagine all the other ones, the cool things they’ve done, and the stereotypes they’ve broken.” said Bawa.

PHS and the coding world in general are very fortunate to have Bawa defying the stereotypes about girls in code and helping others to get involved. She knows that computers and code are to be a huge part of the future, and she will surely succeed in bringing more people into the act.