Prior to joining The Hidden Genius Project, Darrell (DJ) Edwards, Jr., OAK4 Hidden Genius Alum had some experience with coding, but wasn’t sure if that was a career he wanted to pursue. After joining our Intensive Immersion Program, Darrell found his passion for computer science and thrived being a leader and mentor to his peers. As DJ prepares to wrap up his junior year as a Computer Science major and Founder/Vice President of the largest coding club at Lehigh University, he shares how excited he is to start his internship at Bank of the West this summer as a Software Engineer.
How did you first learn about The Hidden Genius Project?
My mother introduced me to the program. Once I learned more about the program I was eager to apply because I knew it was a one-of-a-kind experience, that quite frankly, I wasn’t going to find anywhere else.
How have you been impacted by the pandemic?
Since the pandemic hit the U.S. last year, my school Lehigh University went completely remote so I had to adjust to online education. So I have been attending school virtually from home, which has been a big difference for me, especially with the 3-hour time difference. I also had to maintain my relationships with friends while being across the country, which is tough at times.
Other than that things have been good. I’m the Founder and Vice President of The Lehigh Coders Community, which is now the biggest computer science club on campus with over 325 members and counting. I created this club to let students who aren’t computer science majors get an opportunity to learn about coding. We invite speakers to come and give lectures, host events, provide coding hours, facilitate coding competitions, and more. We are currently working on a club website that should be deployed by the end of this semester.
I have also been assisting Introductory Computer Science courses at my school as a TA and currently an intern for a cryptocurrency exchange called Dolomite as a part-time frontend developer.
What was your experience in the program like?
My high school was predominantly white and I often felt isolated, especially in my computer science classes where I was the only Black student. So being a part of The Hidden Genius Project allowed me to flourish with people who looked like me. I really enjoyed fostering relationships and connections with my brothers and mentors throughout the 15 months. We are a very tight-knit brotherhood.
I always liked our leadership discussions about topics such as community, entrepreneurship, and Black empowerment. Before the program, I didn’t have an opportunity to discuss these things freely and it was empowering to express myself in these open discussions. These conversations helped me understand how society perceives us as Black men and what we have to do to thrive.
One of the best parts of the program was visiting various tech companies like Twitch, Electronic Arts, and Facebook for our business trips. Getting exposed to these large companies and networking with their employees showed me first-hand how they operate behind the scenes. It definitely encouraged me to work at one of these companies as a Software Developer.
Describe the app designed during your time in the Immersion Program.
I created a simple messaging application using xCode. I use JavasScript, CSS, and a database with the goal of connecting people through messaging. The development of this application forced me to step out of my comfort zone and learn something new.
How is The Hidden Genius Project different from other mentorship or training experiences that you have been involved in?
I believe what separates The Hidden Genius Project from other mentorship programs is the heavy emphasis on brotherhood. I’ve been in other computer science programs where they did teach coding concepts, but lacked the bonds and relationships you develop with your mentors and peers in this program. Plus, The Hidden Genius Project is the only organization I’ve been in where I’ve had Black educators teaching me computer science, even during college. I still reach out to Eugene Lemon [Sr. Innovation Educator] anytime I have a coding question and to keep him updated on how I’m doing.
The program also does a great job of keeping students connected to the organization even after they graduate. We all know that the real work begins once you’re an alum trying to get into college and an internship.
What specific skills learned in The Hidden Genius Project have been most beneficial for you?
My leadership and coding skills have been the most beneficial for me since graduating from the program. I had a little bit of coding experience prior to joining The Hidden Genius Project, and I often found myself helping my fellow brothers with their assignments. Those moments motivated me to take more of a leadership role within my cohort, passing on my coding knowledge.
All of those teaching and leadership experiences in the program have helped me in college with being a computer science TA for freshmen students. To be honest, I like being a TA because I remember what it was like to be in their shoes and being timid about the curriculum.
What was the most important thing you gained on a personal level (development, relationship, community, etc.) from participating in The Hidden Genius Project?
Knowing who I want to become in life has been the biggest thing I’ve gained being a part of The Hidden Genius Project. I always had a decent amount of computer science knowledge but was unsure if I wanted to pursue a career in the technology field. The program solidified my passion and further inspired me to pursue computer science in college.
In what ways has the staff of The Hidden Genius Project continued to support you since graduating from the program?
I recently accepted a paid, remote internship opportunity at Bank of the West this summer as a Software Engineer thanks to their connections. This will be my first time working at such a large company in this role so I’m pretty excited. I am looking forward to learning how to operate in a corporate environment and applying what I learned in school to this internship. The Hidden Genius Project also continues to send me opportunities for scholarships, internships, and chances to teach the newer cohorts.
If you could talk to yourself just before you applied, what is one thing you would say?
I would tell myself to take full advantage of the program and use all of its resources. There are so many connections and resources that you can leverage when it comes to finding your career path and developing professionally.
What words of encouragement do you have for future Geniuses?
Nothing in this world is worth having or doing unless you put in the effort, dedication, and grit. You can do anything you set your mind to.