Why I Knew I Needed To Study Tech At College
From Buildings to Building Circuits: My Journey to Tech
Read Time: 4 Mins
I was always a curious child, one who questioned everything she saw. Growing up on the streets of New York, I was constantly observing the world around me, from the range of faces I saw every day on the subway to the buildings that towered above me. So when my best friend’s older sister came in to talk about her work as an architect, it was true love. She spoke of drawing plans for buildings, designing skyscrapers that would change the city’s skyline for decades to come.
I was hooked.
I moved through school convinced that I would be an architect. I applied to drawing programs to learn how to shade properly. I photographed the city around me and the places I visited. I never questioned that becoming an architect was what I wanted to do because I had never considered otherwise. On the suggestion of my parents, who were thrilled to hear that their eldest daughter was passionate about a relatively lucrative (and also exciting!) field, I applied to be a part of the ACE Mentorship Program.
Held across the country, ACE is a program for high school students to meet weekly with experts in architecture, construction, and engineering and draw from their experiences and knowledge. The students are expected to work throughout the school year and design a building project, with the program eventually culminating in a legitimate presentation in front of experts and professionals. It was there that I made my first pasta bridge, used a hot glue gun for the first time, and, most importantly, learned that I no longer wanted to be an architect.
One of my favorite mentors in the program was an architect, and one week it was his turn to explain what his job entailed, how he got there — the typical career spiel. He described working constantly in college, being in the studio to get sketches and plans and styrofoam models in on time. I was never one to shy away from hard work, but the tipping point was earning your license.
Architects need to be licensed in order to sign their own designs, something that seems quite trivial but can actually make or break someone’s career. I mean, you wouldn’t want some rando to claim that they were the ideating force behind your crowning achievement, would you? The catch was that earning that license, the one that would finally allow you to add to your public portfolio of designs, would take years to earn.
I was immediately unhooked. I wanted to be credited for what I would undoubtedly spend hours creating and making into reality. That love for architecture was gone but I stayed in the ACE program. I really enjoyed the friends I had made and the work I got to do, regardless of the lack of interest in becoming a professional architect. I truly loved working with buildings and thinking about the flow of different man-made landscapes, so it didn’t matter to me that I wouldn’t be pursuing it as a career.
At the end of my third year of the program, I had thought about what aspects of ACE kept me coming back. I remembered the pasta bridges and hot glue guns. I started looking past the elaborate facades of the buildings around me and started thinking about the cables and gears lifting the elevator, the miles of pipe and wire filling the walls, the dozens of devices scattered across the shelves and counters of every apartment. I stopped thinking about merely the outside and started focusing on the inside, the inner mechanisms. I became drawn to engineering. And like any good set of parents who have absolutely no clue what their kid is interested in but want to support them anyway, my mom and dad saw an article in a local newspaper targeted to girls interested in STEM and sent it my way. I’m not exaggerating when I say that article shaped me to be who I am today.
It was about this new summer program called “Girls Who Code”, where groups of girls were sent to company headquarters for seven weeks to learn the fundamentals of computer science. I’m not gonna lie—I didn’t want to apply for Girls Who Code at all. I didn’t want another seven weeks of learning when I was already exhausted from over seven months of it. It didn’t help that my first introduction to computer science was in the form of the incredibly boring (in my opinion of course!) NetLogo and Racket.I had already come, seen, and conquered coding, and I didn’t want to go back.
Boy, was I wrong.
Not even fifteen minutes into our first class, I realized that I had looked at GWC all wrong. My teacher was a young grad student who was eager to show her students the wonders of coding. My TAs were undergrads who were quirky and helpful in the right way. My fellow students were as clueless as me, but after weeks of hands-on projects and class trips and soft skills exercises, we grew to be a confident bunch who could rely on each other for everything.
With every line of code I’ve written and every circuit I’ve built since then, from hackathons to choosing my major in college, I’ve said hello to the world of technology, and there’s simply no way I’m turning back.
Caitlin Stanton is a student at Cornell University studying electrical and computer engineering. She got her start as a Girls Who Code student, and immediately started attending hackathons, working at companies like Oath and Qualcomm, and founding tech initiatives, such as def hacks( ) and ProgramHers. On campus, she is the founder and president of Cornell’s chapter of the engineering sorority Alpha Omega Epsilon, one of the co-directors of faculty/alumni relations for Women in Computing at Cornell, and a staff writer for the sports department of the Cornell Daily Sun.