Lots of teenagers get into trouble at school. When Gabriel Rosa was 14, he hacked into his school’s computer system. When the principal found out, he called Rosa into his office. After a stern talk, the principal handed him a MacBook computer.
“He told me to experiment on something more productive, rather than destructive,” Rosa said. “For me, getting that computer was the best thing ever. I had taught myself how computers work by reading my dad’s old computer engineering textbooks in the basement, and having my own let me explore and expand my skills in subjects I was interested in.”
Rosa attended the Pathways in Technology Early College High School, or P-TECH, in Brooklyn, N.Y., a career-focused program co-founded by IBM. The six-year program weaves together high-school, community college, mentoring, paid internships, hands-on learning.
Rosa, like other P-TECH students, began taking college courses the summer after ninth grade, learning programming, virtual reality and mobile app development. That same year, Rosa’s teacher connected the class with a NASA hackathon.
“We created a solar system app as part of the hackathon,” Rosa said. “I had the chance to meet a lot of interesting people and see how they were able to collaborate to make something together. It let me take what I had learned in school and the things I taught myself and put those skills to work.”
He saw the same collaborative dynamic during an internship with IBM during his third year of school, when he worked alongside user-experience designers and digital strategists.
Rosa made good on his principal’s advice. By 2015, he had finished P-TECH’s six-year program in just four years, and he became the first in his family to earn an associate’s degree.
“When my parents were 18 or 19, they didn’t have the opportunities that I’ve had,” Rosa said. “My dad came to this country from the Dominican Republic when he was about my age. I have two younger brothers and two younger sisters, and I’m glad I can set a good example for them.”
Through his internship contacts, Rosa landed a full-time job at IBM as a front-end developer. At 19, he was creating websites for IBM’s online marketplace. Using his background in programming, he collaborated with designers to bring their ideas to life.
“P-TECH itself was an experiment, and it allowed me to grow and change how I deal with problems, both in my personal life and my professional life,” Rosa said. “Now I have a job that I love where I get to see how design, user and business needs come together to make a great final product.”