Coders are most often celebrated for their work behind a screen. But Rebecca Garcia, coder, activist, and co-founder of the non-profit CoderDojo NYC, is most celebrated for her efforts to get other people behind screens in the hope that they can empower themselves through technology.
She believes technology is a tool for change, and her work bringing STEM education to underrepresented groups has encouraged more young people, minorities, and women to enter the technology field.
"I believe that age, whether young or old, is not a factor of success or [of learning] technical skills," Garcia says. "Instead, it's all about the ability to be passionate about learning—that is what sets people apart in creating through technology."
Garcia says that growing up as a first-generation American of Mexican, Filipino, and Japanese descent, she knew she wanted to do work that helped people, but had always assumed she'd be a lawyer.
"When I finally realized that I didn't see myself in law school and that I had the tools right in front of me to learn and build, it clicked," Garcia says. "I ended up leaving school with what technical knowledge I had gained and starting working, knowing that there was also always more to learn. Whatever lack of confidence I had slowly became replaced with the mindset that, if I didn't try, I wouldn't grow."
Before founding CoderDojo NYC—which teaches young people aged seven to 17 coding skills—Garcia formerly worked for Squarespace and as a developer at DoSomething, a non-profit based in the United States that's focused on youth and social change. She also currently serves as the program manager at Microsoft's Tech Jobs Academy, which helps underrepresented New Yorkers get into the information technology profession. Of all her achievements, she says she is most proud of being recognized as a White House Champion of Change for Tech Inclusion. Just 22 when she received the award in 2013, she was the youngest person—and the only Latina and Asian American—recognized that year.
Now 26, Garcia describes herself as having a "never-ending amount of curiosity" and says that all her work will be a success if the diversity conversation at the world's top technology firms becomes obsolete.
"I want to have helped change the mindset about the gender gap or lack of skills," Garcia says. "That we no longer need to see diversity as just a headcount but as a necessity to spur growth within companies, organizations, and individuals."
Explore the complete list of this year's 30 top thinkers under 30 here. (Lead 3-D Illustration: Comrade)