From Coding to Kids: Allen Makes Unique Career Move
By Bruce Gerson
After graduating from Carnegie Mellon in 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in computer science and a Silicon Valley internship under his belt, David Allen’s career path changed direction during a chance meeting at a Karaoke Night at an Oakland establishment.
That direction led him to Carnegie Mellon's Children's School, where he's beginning his fourth year teaching 4- and 5-year-olds.
“I was talking to a stranger about looking for a job, when the woman said, ‘I work at a pre-school and if you ever want to come work there let me know,’” Allen said.
Allen always knew he enjoyed working with kids. In high school he worked at a summer school for elementary age children for several years and enjoyed every bit of it.
“I had a great experience doing it,” he said. “It gave me the chance to really try to get the kids involved in the program. Kids don’t always want to be a part of the program they’re in because often they don’t have a choice. I really enjoyed getting the kids happy and excited to be there.”
So, he reached out to his Karaoke Night contact, and soon began working as a teacher’s assistant at a pre-school in Oakland.
“It was supposed to be a six-month job while I looked for another coding gig, but I liked this too much,” Allen said. “I ended up looking into how I could make this into a real career.”
Allen recently earned his master’s degree in education and his teacher’s certificate at Carlow University. While studying there, he continued to work at the Oakland pre-school, where he met Jean Bird, a longtime teacher at CMU’s Children’s School whose grandson was one of Allen’s students.
“Even from my very brief observations of his interactions with children when I picked up my grandson, I saw that he was in tune with what the children needed in their play and learning,” Bird said. “David has many gifts. What I am most continually impressed by is his ability to meet the children where they are, help them to explore the possibilities for their learning, and empower them to take the next steps.”
Allen said Bird has been a mentor to him.
“Jean is a really strong well-established teacher so it’s been wonderful working with her and learning a lot from her,” he said.
Carnegie Mellon’s Children’s School is part of the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences' Department of Psychology and is a popular program in the Pittsburgh area for 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds. It is a laboratory school that is actively involved in preschool and kindergarten education, developmental research, and undergraduate teaching and training. The Children’s School is accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children and licensed by the Pennsylvania Department of Education.
Allen is impressed by the Children’s School.
“I love being an employee there. Every decision that happens at the school is made by the group, from how we organize the playground shed to how we allocate the budget. I’ve seen a lot of pre-school environments and the Children’s School gets so much right.
“We’re not just here to give the children a place to be, we’re here to give them an experience that will give them a good start for school and life,” he said. “What’s most important is getting them excited to come to school.”
Allen, who skateboards to work, says his favorite part of the job are the challenges, rewards and the kids, of course.
“It might be the puzzle-solving, computer science mindset in me, but I really like that there’s so many different challenges that happen in the day,” he said. “You have the challenge of helping kids reach certain academic objectives; you have the challenge of getting the students to want to be at school; and you have the challenge of helping kids cooperate and get along with each other.”
Connecting with the students gives Allen great satisfaction.
“When you do see progress, you know you’ve had a direct impact on helping that child reach the next step. That’s so rewarding and fulfilling,” he said. “It’s even nicer when the kid gives you a big smile and thank you. You know you’ve helped in a deep, meaningful and impactful way.
“It’s fulfilling in a way that coding wasn’t,” Allen said. “It fits my mode of thinking.”