By now you should be aware of the fact that I love women-run anything. But I especially love women-run things in male dominated fields. When I found out that the next local workshop of Ladies Learning Code was going to be an intro to Ruby, there was no way I wasn’t going to be there.
My forays into Twine have proven fruitful, and dangerous. Fruitful, because it was a good early example of how anyone, of any age, can begin to learn code. Dangerous, because when I got hung up on an element, I would sit there, staring and googling and testing things until I got it to work. (And when it did, that fruitful feeling came back in a giddy, euphoric kind of way!)
Programming is in my genes – my mom was an avid programmer back when your code was punched out on cards. She wrote a programming for teaching a class that was so popular, it was used by the whole Board of Education. Until some enterprising jerk decided to edit my mom’s name out of the code, and put their own – when the entire program unwrote itself as a protection method. Bad. Ass.
I think programming is erroneously thought of as a strictly sciencey, left-brain activity. It’s helpful, in a way – in order to talk a computer’s language, learning how to process logical steps is helpful. But I was surprised to find out how much creativity is required for even the simplest programming. The day was broken down into learning the basic vocabulary of Ruby – classes, methods, arrays, objects, etc. As we learned about them, we did practice puzzles to see them in action. Then we used what we’d learned to create a handful of small applications.
Going through the answers together with the class showed where creativity is really important because not only do you have to anticipate how the computer is going to interpret your code, but you need to anticipate how the user running your program is going to think. For example:
Our first project was to create a short looping program that asked the user what their favourite colour was, ending the loop when either they said no to all the options, or when they said yes to a colour. BUT the solution as presented meant the user had to type in ‘yes’ (or “Yes” or “yes.”, etc) exactly as the code specified. Most people don’t do that! So the code would theoretically work, but might not be very user-friendly.
Ruby appealed to me on two levels – one in that it’s very simple and user-friendly to learn, but also because of that simplicity, it meant that it would be easy for me to ask questions about the end user product and how to improve it. (The second one, a blackjack game, I completed successfully also but there would’ve been ways to make it better, like adding in a delay feature between deals). I leapt ahead to studying more about Ruby Gems and Rails, and what I could do with that – you can’t do much with Ruby as a layperson, the instructor told me. So why limit myself to being a layperson? If you have an idea for an app and what you want it to do, there’s a way to figure out how to get your program to do it.
Plus, the setting was a comfortable learning environment to test things out and ask questions. Men were welcome to attend the event, but registration was set up so they would never exceed women in attendance. Our instructor and half the mentors were women, as well. Overall, it was an excellent experience and I’m looking forward to attending another in the future. (I’ve heard there was an HTML/CSS one coming up, which sounds awesome.) From my personal experience, the aim of Ladies Learning Code isn’t so much to teach you programming on its own, but to break down the mystifying barriers of being a “Programmer”. Not that programming isn’t challenging, or a difficult job (particularly when the competitive field is so glutted!) But it’s good to know that even people who work as developers, or software engineers get stuck and say “Fuck it, I’m just gonna google.” The developers I know are excited to get more people working with Ruby, or Python or Java – they don’t want to be some super-secret club filled with rarefied, socially awkward nerds.
Have you dabbled in programming? What was it like? What did you make?