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Hardcoding Students for Success

Hardcoding Students for Success

New Teacher Leaves Facebook to Lead Computer Science Pathway


Picture: Derrick McMillan with Poster "Be Bold" The walls of his computer lab display a collage of T-shirts from Dropbox, Yahoo and Instagram next to posters straight from the Facebook campus that declare: “Fortune Favors the Bold” and ask: “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”


These decorations both inspire Derrick McMillen’s computer science students and give a nod to the tech world he left last year to teach at Coliseum College Prep Academy (CCPA) in East Oakland. The 26 year-old San Diego native began CCPA’s first computer science (CS) pathway this fall after meeting an OUSD recruiter as he was looking to transition into education.


“I asked, ‘What does it take to be a really good teacher in Oakland?’ and she told me ‘resilience,’” Derrick recalled. “She said, ‘You have to be able to have a confrontation with a student and still be the same person tomorrow, happy to come into work and excited to teach and not everyone can do that.’ I think that was exactly the kind of challenge I was looking for at this point in my life.”  


Before leaving his job at Facebook, Derrick made sure CCPA would be the right fit for him. He learned about Principal Carroza’s vision for a CS pathway starting in 9th grade and CCPA’s rigorous requirement that 11th and 12th grade students be either concurrently enrolled in an AP class or do an off-site internship. He then volunteered as a co-teacher in a classroom for 10 weeks where he helped develop a unit plan that combines computer science and math. Derrick joined OUSD at the right time, as he helps teach a record 2,500 students who enrolled in CS this year across the District.


“After that experience I knew I wanted to be a part of this,” Derrick said. “The highs are very high and the lows are very low, but I love my students, they are all unique individuals. I think teaching requires you to be the most compassionate, humble and respectful person you can possibly be. It brings out things in you that you wouldn’t need in any other field, it’s really interesting to see how it changes you.”


Derrick is proud to be teaching alongside the passionate educators and administrators at CCPA, which boasts one of OUSD’s lowest teacher attrition rates and a 0% dropout rate last year.


“Our students need to be building the Oakland of the future as tech moves in. It shouldn’t be other people, and I think we get that. We’re much more aggressive and excited about CS than other districts. We’ve got the startup mentality of ‘we’re going to do this and be passionate about it and fail and adjust and fail and adjust...that’s unique to Oakland.”

Looking back on his career move he adds,“Tech life is pretty comfy but I don’t miss it. This is much more rewarding.”