Joyce Gao’s coding journey began in Year 10 through a self-paced Udemy Python course, where she discovered a passion for solving problems through coding.

Throughout high school she immersed herself in online courses and hackathons, and programs like the National Computer Science School (NCSS) and Girls Who Code summer schools, and even started a programming club at her all-girls' school, empowering her peers to explore tech careers.

Now an Earn & Learn developer at WiseTech, Joyce shares her experiences, the resources that helped her, and practical advice for high school students eager to advance their coding skills.

When and how did your interest in coding begin?

I first started coding back in Year 10 through an online self-paced Udemy Python course. I really like the satisfying feeling when I finally solve a problem after hours of debugging, and how I could make my projects as creative and unique as I want it to be, in any direction and area of focus, so this kept me going!

How did you learn how to code?

At first, I enrolled in programming courses on platforms like Udemy and Coursera, where I coded along with the tutorial videos and asked for help in the course forum when encountering challenges. After becoming more comfortable with the basics, I started to join hackathons to meet like-minded programmers and build larger-scale projects aimed at benefiting the community, while participating in programs like the NCSS and Girls Who Code summer schools, as well as the Defence Force cybersecurity work experience, to explore and up-skill myself in a wide range of programming areas while expanding my connections in the tech industry.

What online courses or platforms did you find most helpful for learning new programming languages and concepts?

Personally, I like taking courses on Udemy and Coursera to structurally learn new programming concepts, as these courses are well-organised and teach in a sequential order from basic to advanced topics. I also enjoy working through Grok Learning’s courses designed for high school students, as they provide immediate feedback after submitting code on the website, with online tutors providing guidance and support to all students.

Have you attended any coding bootcamps or competitions? If so, which ones and did they contribute to your skill development?

I have attended intensive programs like the NCSS and Girls Who Code summer schools. NCSS helped me to improve both my technical and interpersonal skills as I met like-minded friends and collaboratively worked on cybersecurity challenges with them; while Girls Who Code summer school allowed me to virtually connect with girls interested in programming worldwide, with tutors conducting live lectures on topics such as Data Science, Web Development and Cybersecurity, guiding us to build our own applications with personal styles. I would say both programs provide an inclusive, encouraging community that empowered me in my programming journey.

I participated in a few hackathon and project-building competitions, such as the UNSW CompClub high school hackathon back in 2022, where my team came first with our educational application that enables high school students to study more effectively through personalised questions and past paper filters. These competitions improved my collaboration and problem-solving skills, making me realise how there are no limits to what one can build using code.

Can you share how any why you started the programming club at your school?

I went to an all-girls’ school where there used to be no STEM extracurricular clubs, so my friends and I decided to share our interests in programming with more girls and help them realise how capable they are of solving challenging technical problems, encouraging them to consider pursuing a career in tech just like us.

We presented Python and Web Development contents, helped our club members to build interactive websites and Python games, and certainly enjoyed watching them experiencing those ‘woah’ moments after their code work successfully!

What practical advice would you give to high school students who are keen to advance their coding skills?

I would encourage developing a growth mindset and embracing the challenges you encounter while programming, as tackling difficult problems sharpens your analytical and logical thinking abilities, stretches you out of your comfort zone which maximises your learning.

There is always a solution to a problem, so I highly recommend utilising online resources and doing some research to understand the root problem you are trying to solve, then break it down into smaller and more solvable components, and finally experiment with different solutions to progressively work towards a successful one!

What excites you most about being part of the Earn & Learn program?

I have always wanted to contribute my ideas and perspectives to real-world projects that positively impact millions of people, while continuously learning and improving my technical and interpersonal skills, and that’s exactly what WiseTech’s Earn and Learn program enables me to do! I get to tackle new challenges every day and feel comfortable asking the mentors for help whenever I need a hand, while it is also really nice to become good friends with other earn and learners as we spend a lot of time together.

I like how we are taking computer science classes at UTS alongside work, as we get to learn the theories behind all the practical coding we have been doing at work, while still can get involved in uni societies and events. It is also nice that WiseTech pays us a full-time salary and reimburses our uni fees in addition to the experience itself, so I would highly recommend this program to anyone interested in pursuing a tech career!