Tech Girlz kick butt in the REPL and on the whiteboard

A lot has happened since I started the blog and some of it has been waaay out of my comfort zone. I don’t think I ever intended to be a visible presence in the programming community, but here I am. This past weekend I co-taught some middle schoolers how to program in Python through Tech Girlz. Before the class, the organizer sent out some helpful guidelines on how to be a role model. Funny, in all of this, I never thought of myself as a role model. Then, yesterday I was profiled by She Tech Philly. Though it is not the most comfortable position for me, I’ve come to realize how important it is to be present and create the community I want.

I spent too much time in grad school trying to not get noticed. A lot of my classmates were professional developers that wanted the degree, but seemed to already know everything. I didn’t want to ask questions in class because I worried they might be stupid. I was often more willing to follow design plans proposed by partners than follow my own. And I even had a hard time insisting that I type when pairing with overzealous partners. I now realize how counterproductive that behavior was.

As time wore on, I started to speak up more and be present in conversations. I remember correcting a professor’s analysis of a stack problem in Theory of Computation. Some of my more vocal classmates disagreed with me, but when the professor went back to look at the diagram, she realized she had made a mistake and that I was right:) From then on, I made a point to speak up more; I learned more, I felt more confident about my ideas, and more importantly I became more comfortable with my mistakes.

Since I started working as a professional dev, I’ve tried to continue to be present. It can be controversial to talk about the gender imbalance in STEM. I’m going to do it anyway. STEM is lacking diversity and the development community is especially missing women. Women significantly influence household spending, get the majority of advanced degrees, and are savvy tech consumers. I wish there were more of them in software engineering and that developers look more like the consumers that use the software. By supporting women and girls in STEM, I am hoping to create the development community I want.

I want everybody to approach tech with fearlessness and excitement. I love programming — it is creative, fascinating, and fun. It was great to see middle school girls so stoked about programming this past weekend. I hope that I conveyed my enthusiasm for development and encouraged them to think of it as an achievable career. They certainly got the fearless part down early. They kept trying to break the Python REPL and asking questions like “could Python help me solve logic puzzles?” How cool is that!?! I’m looking forward to these kids schooling me in a few years. Until then, I’m going to try to be present and spend my free time creating the community I want, comfort zone be damned.

PS — I worked with one of the girls to make this simple Python prime finder. She wanted to write a program to help her solve her teacher’s daily logic puzzles. Yay, that’s the spirit!

def is_prime(number):
    possible_factors = range(2, number)
    for possible_factor in possible_factors:
        if number % possible_factor == 0:
            print number
            print "has a factor that is not 1 or itself, number is not prime"
    print number
    print "is prime!"