Written by: Isaac LimInterviewed by: Emmanuel Cruz & Annika Gozum
Edited by: Emmanuel Cruz
Elden Mari Sanchez is a Computer Science teacher in Philippine Science High School despite not taking up Computer Science classes in college. Instead, she graduated with a degree in Industrial Engineering from UP Diliman.
Most of her programming knowledge came from her stay in Philippine Science High School, since she didn’t take up any Computer Science classes because of her course in UP Diliman. During her time in high school, she passionately enjoyed programming because she loves solving puzzles, drawing parallels between the two. This experience resonated so deeply within Edlen that after graduating from UP Diliman, she decided to become an SAP Technology Consultant at what was then Hewlett-Packard Enterprise (now DxC Technologies). Part of her job was configuring SAP to the clients’ needs, particularly for those in Sales and Distribution.
In her stay at the enterprise, Edlen, however, did not truly enjoy what she was doing, which prompted her resignation from the company. Although she was unsure of where her destiny would bring her, she knew that a career in programming was what she wanted to have. With that final goal in mind, she applied for jobs within that field. While unemployed, Edlen’s friend offered a part-time job for her at a college entrance review center, offering her a taste of teaching. A month into her job, she found that she really enjoyed the experience. This sparked something within Edlen, and suddenly, she knew her calling. She decided to apply for a job in Philippine Science High School, to pursue her teaching dreams and passion for Computer Science. As if her stars were perfectly aligned, she is now a teacher for Computational Thinking and Web Development in one of the best secondary schools in the Philippines.
What compelled her to pursue a track in education were the moments when students thoroughly comprehend and grasp a concept. Those instances were akin to how she would feel when she finally gets her program to work, and she hopes that her teaching would invoke that same feeling in her students. She also hopes to generate interest among her students within STEM fields, which motivated her to apply for a Computer Science teaching job.
During her stay in Pisay, few of Edlen’s own classmates appreciated Computer Science classes. In contrast, she hopes that the younger generations are inspired by her classes–other than the fact that her classroom is air-conditioned. Wishing to instill a sense of joy and fulfillment within her students, she aims to help her students see that Computer Science is not as intimidating as it may seem. The underlying stigma within the Computer Science field is self-doubt: students failing to realize their own potential in programming.
There is one more component of her job which Edlen believes is equally, if not more, important as programming: developmental thinking. “It’s not just about learning how to code, it’s about learning how to think and solve problems,” Edlen says. She firmly believes that developmental thinking is a skill she must impart to her students.
With regards to bonding with her students, as with all teachers, she cherishes interacting with her students and taking the time to help them appreciate Computer Science. Although, “they can get loud and rowdy at times but they’re all really great” she says with a smile on her face.
One of the most memorable things she has experienced as a woman in tech was participating in the Women Who Code Hackathon in late 2017 alongside her students. To say the least, it was an eye-opening experience for her. Edlen has always been aware of the gender disparity within the tech industry but did not know what was actually being done to mitigate this disparity. She feels strongly about giving everyone equal opportunities and is an avid supporter of events which focus on getting women interested in joining the booming technological industry. During the event, she felt the passion of the community, which made the environment all the more exciting. The Philippine Science High School team were the underdogs in the event: pitted against the likes of colleges and professionals. Despite this, one of their teams managed to win an award, showing that age does not have any bearing as long as the passion is ignited.
That same year, she learned about WiTech and was once again amazed at their efforts in promoting women in tech. It was these events which inspired her research topic for her Masters, which she is currently undertaking: ‘Women in Computer Science: A Study On the Factors Affecting the Gender Disparity in Computer Science Students in the Philippines’. Her study prompted her to learn more about why there are less women in the technology industry within the Philippines and why most published works are based in the United States.
Many of her female students have shown interest in Computer Science, and she actively encourages them to apply to competitions and workshops. She helps them in overcoming their fear and believes that it is always worth trying: “if it is something you enjoy, you should continue doing it!” This is also the advice she would give to any woman who dreams of pursuing careers in tech. “Don’t be intimidated by the lack of women in the industry. If it’s something that you really want or feel like you would enjoy, then go for it.”
She also acknowledged the students already in STEM, telling them not to give up and don’t be too discouraged. “I also struggled with Math and other subjects when I was younger, and still do sometimes. It is important to just keep going and try your best.” Edlen is a firm believer that there is nothing wrong with asking for help. “If you really feel like you are struggling, you can find someone to reach out to. Cliché as this is, it’s not about how many times you fall down, it’s how many times you get back up.”