Rediscovering a Lost Love

A Geek in High School

Me in high school…dig those glasses!

Way back in the stone ages when I was in high school, I took computer science in grade 11 and 12 because I loved computers and thought that it would be really neat and fun. In grade 11 I was one of five girls in a class of 30; in grade 12 I was the only girl in a class of five.  Unfortunately my teacher that year (who shall remain nameless) told me flat-out that he didn’t believe women should be in computer science, but vowed that he wouldn’t let that affect my mark in his class. And, to be fair, he didn’t.  I got a B+ in the class, and I think I deserved a B+ for the wonderful inventory system I created in Basic for my mom’s Mary Kay business (yeah, that project didn’t really endear me to the teacher).  I often wonder, though, had he’d been a bit more encouraging would I have looked at programming as a career?  Ah well, “shoulda woulda coulda” is never a good thing…

Anyway, I loved my computer science classes in high school, especially the grade 12 class – we were mostly left on our own to work on our programs and I used to spend hours at lunch and before and after school tweaking mine.  Once I got out of high school and into university I still did a little bit of programming on my Commodore 64 but since I wasn’t in computer science I didn’t really do anything serious.  Mostly I copied programs out of various computer magazines that had those “type this in your computer to ‘create’ your own program” columns and then tore my hair out when the program didn’t work and I had to go through umpteen lines of code to figure out where I made the typo.  I did recently find the notes for one of my own home-brewed programs – an NPC generator for a D&D campaign I was creating.  Told you I was a geek…

Once I graduated and got my first job, I didn’t really do much programming anymore.  My computer geekiness shifted to learning various software applications and, eventually, to the hardware and networking side of things.  Oh, I’d do some scripting and stuff with Lotus Notes, and I learned HTML and CSS so I could play around with websites but that was the extent of it. Until last Saturday…

Allow me to digress for a moment.  Last month I was channel-surfing and came across Inner Space on the Space channel.  I’m not a huge fan of the show – in fact, I rarely watch it – but in this case the fates must have been watching out for me.  I managed to hit it just as they were doing a promo for a segment on this not-for-profit group called Ladies Learning Code. What I saw from the promo was a room full of women (and a few men – despite the name, anyone who wants to learn is welcome) learning how to code in HTML and CSS in what looked to be a fun and interactive environment.

Needless to say I had to check it out.  I watched the segment, liked what I saw and proceeded to the website, only to find that I’d just missed the very interesting looking ‘Creating a Personalized Twitter or Website Background’ workshop. (Note to the LLC people – pleasepleaseplease offer this again!)  I decided to sign up for their newsletter and a few weeks later I got notification of a new workshop – ‘Intro to Python for Beginners’.

For those of you who don’t know, and I didn’t until I did some research, Python (http://python.org) is a open-source (free) programming language.  According to the Ladies Learning Code people “…Python is a great language for beginners. Its beautiful and clean-looking syntax means you’ll spend less time being confused (it looks sort of like English!), and more time understanding and applying the fundamentals of programming…”  Based on that, I thought “gee, this sounds like fun!” and promptly signed up.  I then spent the next few weeks eagerly looking forward to my day of geekdom.

Which brings me to last Saturday.  I’ve got to say, the workshop certainly exceeded my expectations.  I haven’t had that much fun in ages!  We were at the Centre for Social Innovation, which was a great place to hold this (lack of air conditioning aside).  Essentially it’s a nice big basement with beautiful brick walls and lots of open space.  Great atmosphere for a day spent meeting new people and learning code, and easy to get to via public transit.

One of the really nice things about the Ladies Learning Code workshops is the volunteer mentors they manage to line up, which helps when you have about forty or fifty attendees. These are people who, in this case, work with Python on a day-to-day basis and who graciously volunteered their time to make sure our experience was both useful and fun. In this case, it worked out that there were two mentors per six-person table, which was a big help when I couldn’t figure out why my program wasn’t working!.  Chris and Al, our two mentors, were very knowledgeable as well as being very tactful – there’s nothing more embarrassing than finding out you’ve spelled a command using British/Canadian spelling instead of American (capitalise vs. capitalize) and that’s why your program is crashing in a blaze of not-so-awesom glory.

Bythe end of the day, I’d made some new friends, had a couple of small programs under my belt, and I had a new challenge to go home with – get my Hangman program up and running without cheating and looking at the answers.  No, I still don’t have it working, but I will.  I’ve found an interesting tutorial on Python that will hopefully build on what I’ve learned already, and I’m looking forward to playing and seeing what I can do on my own. I have another skill that I can put on my resume and, given that a lot of the jobs I’m looking at want a ‘techie type’, that could be very helpful.  More importantly, I rediscovered my love of something geeky – programming.  And spending a day rediscovering something you love is never a bad thing.

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Alan Brown
    Jul 28, 2012 @ 12:03:48

    Around 1980, for my birthday, my wife gave me the first edition of “Starfleet Command”, a wargame based on Star Trek. It was a great game, but the process to calculate damage was tedious. One die roll determined how many points of damage you had inflicted on your opponent; then each and every point of damage required a die roll to determine what ship systems had been damaged. Around the same time, I took a night school course in Commodore BASIC. My final project was a huge damage calculation program called “Starfleet Boomski” for my Commodore 64. Never wrote any other programs after that class, but the speed at which we were able to play a Starfleet scenario from that point on made the many hours of programming and debugging all worthwhile.

    Reply

  2. mattfors
    Jul 30, 2012 @ 14:32:27

    I just graduated college and in any of my computer courses of 30 to 40 students, there were never more than 3 girls. In high school it was zero. Thumbs up for python!

    Reply

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