After graduating from Montera Middle school in Oakland, Nyjel Todd joined The Hidden Genius Project’s Intensive Immersion Program as a member of OAK4. His experience in the program has had a great impact on his high school journey. We sat down with Nyjel to get a firsthand account of his journey, and to learn more about him and the role The Hidden Genius Project has played in his growth and development.
How did you first learn about The Hidden Genius Project?
My grandma heard about it at church and told my dad. He had already exposed me to things like web design and music production. Since he knew I was always interested in tech and wanted to know more about it, he encouraged me to apply.
What was your experience in The Intensive Immersion Program like?
I was excited to get into the program and especially to go on business trips. Meeting successful people and having the opportunity to network opened doors for me and created opportunities. I think I was one of the few people interested in the coding part of the program. I really enjoyed programming and it turned out that I also excelled at building apps.
My mentors in the program taught me how to fish on my own, meaning they supported me to seek out information instead of relying on somebody else to help me. They taught us how to help ourselves and it’s helped me since then to be able to find what I’m looking for.
How is The Hidden Genius Project different than other mentorship or training experiences that you have been involved in?
The Hidden Genius Project is different because everybody is really close to each other; it’s a brotherhood. I can easily relate to my mentors because we share a lot of similarities with being black and interested in technology. The time I spent in other programs wasn’t particularly memorable, but with The Hidden Genius Project, I’ve been with them for so long it feels like family. It’s really easy to communicate with my mentors because they’re like father figures to me, especially Sean Valentine (Director of Strategic Initiatives). We’re around each other all the time and when we’re not, they reach out to ask me how I’m doing, and try to offer work opportunities or cool trips to network with people.
What specific skills learned in The Hidden Genius Project have been most beneficial for you?
How to make apps using Swift, Firebase, and Xcode, how to pitch an idea, create websites, design games, and design a project from start to finish. As a Youth Educator, I’ve also learned how to create lesson plans that are interesting to young people and how to efficiently express what I’m trying to have them learn.
What opportunities have come your way after completing the Immersion Program?
After graduating from the program, The Hidden Genius Project helped me get involved in the Electronic Arts (EA) Spawn Point Program twice. This is a two-week program where I learned how to develop and pitch a new game idea. My experience at EA taught me how to be creative, think outside the box, and work with a team to create something meaningful. It also showed me how to express my ideas verbally and be organized. As the Producer of the team, I had to make sure everyone and everything was on track before the presentation deadline.
Another opportunity was an internship with a startup company called Trippie at the Kapor Center. Trippie is like Waze for airports which allows users to easily find vendors within them. My role was to expand the app by adding new airports and new vendors using the MapKit and Core Location frameworks. I also enhanced the user-interface/UI in the app as well.
Overall, my experience at Trippie was fun because I got the opportunity to learn from advanced iOS developers and work on an app that was featured on Shark Tank. This internship really prepared for the next level in app development.
In what ways have you remained involved with The Hidden Genius Project since completing the 15-month Intensive Immersion program?
I went to Cleveland with them to attend PyCon and I taught computer skills to youth in a high school in a low-income community. I like to use what I’ve learned from The Hidden Genius Project to teach people about different opportunities that are out there and different ways to pursue a career in technology. I also table at events to tell people what The Hidden Genius Project is about.
What advice do you have for future Geniuses?
Some advice I have for future Geniuses is to really take advantage of this opportunity because this opportunity right here is one in a lifetime. There’s no other program out there like The Hidden Genius Project that’s really going to help and prepare you in pursuing a career in tech or business at such a young age. I would also advise them to stay focused and learn as much as they can, as fast as they can because the more knowledge you have the more opportunities you are likely to have. Lastly, I want them to network and create as many relationships as they can because the people you know in the industry make a big difference and those relationships put you a step higher against other competitors.
Nyjel is currently a senior at Skyline high school. He has his sights set on attending Morehouse College, where he wants to major in computer science and continue to be a positive and successful representative of the black community.