Young Blood

Stuyvesant High School Taps ‘Stuy Mafia’ at Google, Foursquare to Enhance Computer Science Program

In the absence of official support, the computer science program is leaning on its extensive alumni network.
mike zamansky Stuyvesant High School Taps Stuy Mafia at Google, Foursquare to Enhance Computer Science Program

Mr. Zamansky. (Google+)

All students at Stuyvesant High School are required to take an introductory computer science course during sophomore year. Mike Zamansky, the coordinator of Stuyvesant’s bleeding-edge computer science program and a consultant on the city’s new high school tech campus, cold-emailed experts at Google and the University of California, Berkeley while writing it. “It’s a very well-designed course,” he told Betabeat by phone this morning. “We know not every one is going to be a computer scientist. But how can you give an overview and inspire the ones that should go into tech, to go into tech, and at the same time give other kids—the 80 percent of the kids, let’s say, who are not meant to go into tech—something valuable?”

The exhaustive design of the intro class is just one example of how Mr. Zamansky has been building one of the country’s most rigorious high school computer science programs for the past 15 years. Although the program is still the “illegitimate child of the math department,” as Mr. Zamansky put it, there are seven teachers, three of whom teach a full CS courseload, and more than 270 students.

But the program is bumping into obstacles at the high school, where he has limited resources, he said. Recently the program had to cut one of its senior level courses from three sections to two, and there are regularly more kids interested in the program than can be accommodated, he said.

So Mr. Zamansky decided to get the alumni involved.

Stuy computer science students have gone on to companies like IBM, Google, Facebook and Microsoft as well as startups like Foursquare, Twitter and Hype Machine; one graduate called it the “Stuy mafia.” And the alumni remember Mr. Zamansky, or “Z,” quite well. “Took every comp sci class he was offering at the time!” Benny Wong, the cofounder of TechStars graduate TimeHop, wrote in an email.

Next week, Mr. Wong will join about 80 graduates working in tech and about 100 Stuyvesant high school students enrolled in CS for an Alumni Student Open House. The students and alums will gather at the swanky new offices of Foursquare, where they will enjoy pizza, soda and conversation. “The alums will be mixing with the students, talking to them about the neat things they do, how they got there,” Mr. Zamansky said. “I just want people to make connections.”

Mr. Zamansky hopes the event will inspire kids to go into tech and bolster their chances at landing an internship. Last year, Mr. Zamansky was able to place about 20 students in internships at tech companies. Most of the internship connections are informal, but he’s arranged a partnership with Morgan Stanley for funneling young talent into internships.

Want to see what Z and his kids are doing in class? Just check his blog, C’est la Z. Most recently: a field trip to NYU.

Follow Adrianne Jeffries on Twitter or via RSS. ajeffries@observer.com