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Meet the San Diego students coding their way to college and future careers

The end of the school year could mean the beginning of a new career for some students at Jacobs High Tech High in Point Loma.

They have just completed a month-long internship, learning computer coding and developing a video game.

The program was created by a dynamic duo of two graduating seniors who were driven by disappointment, and then determination.

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One of those seniors is 18-year-old Lorenzo Ametrano. Last year, he struggled to find an unpaid, four-week internship, not offered by a family member. It’s a graduation requirement for every student in their junior year.

“Game development has and always will be my passion. So, I emailed and called every single game development company in San Diego County … and they all ghosted me," Ametrano said.

Axel O'Brien, 17, (left) and Lorenzo Ametrano, 18, (right) are seniors at Jacobs High Tech High who led the video game development and coding internship program this past month, San Diego, Calif., June 4, 2024
M.G. Perez
/
KPBS
Axel O'Brien, 17, (left) and Lorenzo Ametrano, 18, (right) are seniors at Jacobs High Tech High who led the video game development and coding internship program this past month, San Diego, Calif., June 4, 2024

He ended up interning for a local architectural firm.

His friend and fellow video game and website developer, Axel O'Brien, 17, was in a similar situation. Although, Alex was eventually able to find a web-related internship.

But, together they wanted to help future High Tech High juniors pursue their passion for programming and mentor them in meeting their internship requirement.

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There was a short circuit in that plan.

“We can’t be official mentors since we don’t have that college degree yet. We have the expertise and we’re able to share it, but to fulfill that requirement we had to team up with an organization,” Ametrano said.

<i>The Sahara Corporation</i> is a video game created by interns from Jacobs High Tech High and is now available online to play. The school provided this screenshot showing the game's main character, Dave, who must survive an attack by robots.
Courtesy of Jacobs High Tech High
The Sahara Corporation is a video game created by interns from Jacobs High Tech High and is now available online to play. The school provided this screenshot showing the game's main character, Dave, who must survive an attack by robots.

They teamed up with The League of Amazing Programmers, a San Diego-based nonprofit organization that teaches coding to kids and teens in fifth through 12th grade. One of the League’s professional programmers has guided the senior duo in their internship program offered to six of High Tech High’s best and brightest students.

O'Brien said his teaching career got off to a great start.

“We ended up covering what we had planned to be two weeks of material in two days. Everyone is super enthusiastic and they all bring something to the table. We are taking all the skills that we learned and combining them into one large game," he said.

The game is called The Sahara Corporation, and is set in a shipping company taken over by AI-controlled robots — except for one remaining, loyal human worker named Dave.

It was up to the High Tech High interns to create and code all that happens for players trying to keep Dave alive when the robots go rogue.

Lorenzo Ametrano, 18, (left) helps an intern with the group coding project at Jacobs High Tech High, San Diego, Calif., June 4, 2024
Mike Damron
/
KPBS
Lorenzo Ametrano, 18, (left) helps an intern with the group coding project at Jacobs High Tech High, San Diego, Calif., June 4, 2024

Tiger Reis, 17, hopes this internship will inspire his plans for a career in screenwriting. He is one of Lorenzo’s close friends.

“He’s totally ready to help. It’s cool. We’re still friends. We’re even more friends now. I just sit with all the moving parts until I can find a way to put it all together and make it compelling. I want to have the characters go through a journey personally and physically," he said.

In the fall, O'Brien’s journey takes him to Dartmouth to study computer science. Ametrano will attend USC for a career in entrepreneurship.

“I love having an idea and then seeing it come to life," Ametrano said.

As a former special education teacher, I look forward to connecting with you and reporting on stories that often go underreported in education. #WeAreBetterTogether
What stories are we missing when it comes to education in San Diego County?