Hacking into Future with Katiana Stephens


By Varada Bhat

It’s almost 4:30 pm. Katiana Stevens, one of the students at CodeStart program is packing up. She said she has been in classes since 8 am and looking forward to going home of past few months.  She is one of the 16 African-American students who is learning Java as part of the program at TechSquare Labs. We are excited to share Katiana’s story and how this immersive program has already begun to transform her life.

What did you study in school?

I studied Political Science at North Carolina University. I just attended two years of school and quit.

Why did you quit school? Tell us your story.

I realized while I was in school I didn’t want to study Political Science. I was really unhappy and disconnected. I was unsure of what direction I was heading. I grew up in a single-family household in Atlanta. For my sister and me growing up wasn’t easy. My mother worked really hard as a teacher. We saw her struggle every day just to provide us basic things. I wanted to do something different and add value to life, but nothing was going right.

What made you want to learn to code?

In middle-school, I really enjoyed making websites and I was looking for something in that area. At the same time, I heard from a friend about the CodeStart program. It was free and year-long intensive program. I thought maybe I should take up this challenge. I thought if I rediscovered what I enjoyed as a kid there could be more meaning to life.

How has learning these skills changed your life?

Having skills that allow me to create and control how I make a living is empowering.  Being 23, there is a sense of triumph, that I make decisions about my future than my future be determined by my situation. When you see what you created from your own imagination comes to life, it gives you strength and potential to grow.

What was your biggest challenge and how did you power through it?

I was on the verge of tears after the first week. I cried out as the concepts were difficult. But the teachers and fellow students were supportive.  We’ve built a strong sense of community. So we’ve all muscled through. CodeStart is powerful – you learn resilience as well.

What plans lay ahead for you?  

At present, I am interning with Emory University. After completing the program, I want to be a software developer.  After gaining some experience maybe get back to school to do an MBA or become an entrepreneur at Tech Square Labs (laughs) to build cutting-edge software applications. This place has given me dreams.

For more information on TechSquare Labs’ CodeStart program, Register for our CodeStart/TechHire Demo Day & Open House this Saturday 10am-4pm.

CodeStart is led by Rodney Sampson, Chief of Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives