In March, ASU alumnus Miguel Angel Zavala noticed many students posting on Reddit seeking advice after their internships were canceled due to COVID-19.
By the end of April, he created Codubee, a skill-building platform designed to mimic the experience of computer science internships remotely.
Codubee focuses on teaching students how to use and apply software systems commonly used in the computer engineering industry, such as React, NodeJS and Amazon Web Services, to create their own web applications in a team setting.
“COVID really changed the way that companies are hiring,” Zavala said. “Right now, they're looking more into your resume and making sure that you have relevant experience... I think a platform like this sets themselves apart from students who might not understand these tools that well.”
Students from several states, including New York and Illinois, were among the first people who participated in the program. Zavala said Codubee also included students from Turkey and Egypt in its initial launch.
“It’s really fun to work with people that are outside of the country, not only for myself, but I think it was also really beneficial for my students,” Zavala said. “It gave them a feel of what it was like to work with kids from both in the U.S. and outside of its borders.”
Olivia Escousse, a sophomore computer science major at Northwestern University, joined the program after reaching out to Zavala on Reddit.
Escousse said she had only learned computer science and coding basics during her freshman year and had never participated in a computer science project before.
Through collaboration with Zavala and her Codubee peers, Escousse said she learned material and practiced teamwork that would not otherwise be taught to first-year students.
“Being a college student and trying to get into the computer science field, they don’t really teach you any of those soft teamwork skills or even those hard skills that you see a lot in actual practice,” Escousse said. “This definitely gave me a boost in that direction, because when I go into my first job, I won’t be completely lost.”
Zavala said he created Codubee all on his own, including building the website and curriculum, mentoring the students, leading lectures and meetings and doing outreach via email.
“It was really fun, to be honest,” Zavala said. “While some people may say things like, ‘Man, you started this program by yourself? It must have been really difficult,’ I’m just helping these students because it’s something that I really enjoy doing."
Ryan Friedman, a senior computer science major at Hamilton College, said he joined Codubee looking for a more hands-on and interactive experience that his previous internship lacked.
He said his relationships with Zavala and his peers worked in their favor as they were able to be professional and have fun together while working on their projects.
"That's something I want for my career," Friedman said. "I want to be able to be in a position where I'm going to work well with people and we're working together effectively."
In addition to offering general instruction, Zavala said he acted as a mentor to his students. Through this mentorship, students built relationships with Zavala and relied on his willingness to help them develop their skills.
“That’s really what this company is about,” Zavala said. “Showing my passion for how much I care about students and their future goals. I really just want to help people reach the goals that they want to reach.”
Despite only being in operation for less than half a year, Codubee placed as a STEM finalist in the Austin Fast Start competition for new entrepreneurs in Austin, Texas.
In October, Codubee will expand to the University of Texas at Dallas and is expected to continue every semester after. Despite only having four students in its initial run, the program received 94 applicants from UTD this fall and will accept 30 students into the program.
Before expanding to UTD, Zavala reached out to career centers at several colleges and universities in Texas.
“To have that validation, not only from (the career consultant) at UTD but from the students at UTD that they see the benefit in this makes me feel wonderful,” Zavala said. “It’s something that I created and now someone else wants to use it. This is so cool.”
Kristen Apolline Castillo is the community and culture editor for The State Press. She has been working for the publication for two years, where she also reported for the desk.