CodeWizardsHQ instructor, Alicia Mullen shatters the stereotype of a typical computer scientist. From how she discovered an interest in programming to the way she incorporates her passions for art and technology into her life, she has chosen unique paths. Alicia provides a wonderful example of how students can find surprising opportunities when they pursue STEM.
From Artist to Engineer
Alicia followed her love of art early. She was in an art-focused middle school and participated in art contests throughout high school. During high school, however, she found a new interest that would take her down an unexpected road. She was in an early college program in high school where she was able to take classes at a community college. It was there that she rekindled an interest in math. Alicia credits her experience in community college and the mentorship that she received there for leading her to study engineering. In her senior year, Alicia pioneered a new program for high school students to study full-time at the Oregon Institute of Technology.
After high school, Alicia went to the University of Washington where she earned a Bachelor of Science in Electrical and Computer Engineering. Her focus was on embedded systems. She also enjoyed studying robotics in her free time. After graduating, Alicia worked as a systems engineer both in product development and testing and in IoT system integration.
Passion Becomes Profession
Recently, Alicia found that her first passion was calling and she decided to make a career change. She is now channeling her art background toward new goals and is serving an apprenticeship as a tattoo artist. Five days a week, she learns the intricacies of this genre, receives art critiques, and assists in the shop.
“It’s a lot of studying. It’s very technical as well. You have to adhere to the styles. You have to learn all the rules and what makes sense and what doesn’t.”
That’s not the entire story though. Alicia’s expertise lies in historical tattooing, specifically American traditional tattooing from the 1890s until the 1960s. Alicia can recount a wealth of fascinating information about the history of tattooing. Themes of tattoos in this era were in large part military-based.
“It’s an interesting history of how the wars would spark different trends in the tattoo world…The modern style comes from Japanese tattooing. They did full-body tattoos and had strong rules about the subject matter and how you did the backgrounds. It spread to Europe in the 1860s. Prince Albert went there to get tattooed along with other royalty.”
Teaching Kids to Code
While in school, Alicia took engineering education courses and spent a year as a teaching assistant for digital circuits courses. She was looking for a job that would complement her time in the studio and accepted an instructor position at CodeWizardsHQ. Her experience with computer science education allows her to be involved in both the art and STEM worlds.
Alicia teaches elementary and middle school coding classes at CodeWizardsHQ. She enjoys teaching both groups and finds the greatest satisfaction in watching students with varied learning styles and backgrounds get excited about the material and push through to solve problems. When asked about memorable student projects, Alicia mentioned a student who wanted to build his own ghost holograms. She said that opened the door to discussing the tools needed for that project and how to do the research to build it. Alicia says her students enjoy learning coding in class that they can then apply to real-world projects on their own.
Alicia finds that her CodeWizardHQ students enjoy the program and they get particularly excited about overcoming challenges as they code. They learn good problem-solving and technical skills and how to find answers on their own. She sees a lot of growth in the students from participating in the program. When asked about what she’s learned as a coding instructor, Alicia talks about her unique students and their individual backgrounds and learning styles.
“It’s always been a passion of mine to try to be more inclusive and to work with students who don’t fit the typical mold of a programmer…It’s important to be flexible to different styles of learning.”
Alicia is a strong proponent of giving students without traditional STEM backgrounds opportunities in areas like engineering. She feels that it’s important to create educational structures that engage these students. Despite not fitting the mold of the typical programmer herself, Alicia has managed to combine all of the best attributes of programming skills into her life and career choices, chief among them logical thinking, problem-solving, and of course, creativity.