When I was at school I hated Computing. The machines were ancient, clapped out BBCs and they never showed you how to do anything remotely useful with them. I ditched it at the first opportunity, and all I can remember is playing a game where you were the owner of a candyfloss stand and had to keep your stock levels high in case a stray donkey had a nibble at your wares. Now I feel quite resentful looking back at how uninspiring those classes were and how I was steered (unsurprisingly) towards languages and literature instead of sciences and computing.
Today I had a chance to learn a little about how the internet actually works, rather than just being on it absolutely all the timeI got to do my first coding since the days of fiddling with Myspace HTML at the event, and very exciting it was too. Over the course of about five hours I managed to create a page with two images (Superman knitting and a parrot stirring a miniature pan of pasta with a spoon in his beak) and two lines of bad patter. Sadly I had to leave before I managed to work through the tutorial on putting it online so it remains in some incomprehensible ether until I learn what I'm doing.
I really enjoyed learning about (the programming language) on (the framework) although let's be honest it is all still a bit like magic. It was interesting that at one point one of the speakers asked if anyone spoke another language, making the point that learning the programming languages is similar to learning actual languages, and probably more than half the women in the room put their hands up. It was a much higher proportion than I think you would find in an average group of twenty people, and I was wondering why it was the case. Does the act of learning all the structures and vocabulary of a new language make you more inclined to take on the type of project where you need to learn a similar set of rules and words? I also imagine that anyone who has learnt a language in the last ten or fifteen years would have used the internet (hello !) so perhaps would be more familiar with it and therefore keener to find out how it works? One to think about.
I thoroughly enjoyed hearing from two women working in software development - a very cool presentation by Maria Gutierrez on the huge scope for creativity along with the flexible working and financial benefits of working in the industry and a really interesting talk from a woman called Eva on teaching coding in Afghanistan. David Chelimsky's chat about how he ended up where he is today was also interesting - best bit was an audience question about the relation between composing jazz music and writing code. They were very related he said, both were about about finding a solution or getting to a certain point but having a great deal of choice about what route you would take to get there. Too cool!
It was so great to be at a tech thing (or any thing in fact) with lots of other women (though there were men there as well) - it's just a completely different experience. It was very noticeable at the recent excellent excellent symposium in Edinburgh - the majority of participants were women which I think is quite unusual at academic conferences. I was very impressed by the general acceptance from the speakers that these events always run late and it's only fair that everyone cuts a few minutes off their talk, so that they all get an equal time to speak. I've been at too many public meetings where some guy (I've seen women do it but in my experience it's been about 90% men) just won't shut up despite being frantically passed bits of paper with '1 minute!!!" on them, as if what they have to say is far too important for time constraints. Utterly enraging, this arrogance that one person deserves a platform to speak at the expense of others. Actually at the TeachMeet event mentioned in the last post they were very strict about speakers not running over their two or seven minute slots - apparently they used to have some kind of stuffed animal (camel?) which was thrown at participants who were dragging their heels. This strikes me as a fine strategy and one that should be adopted by everyone.
Now that the world has been put to rights in terms of loudmouths hogging the limelight at public meetings (a simple solution, beautiful in its simplicity I feel ) I'm off to continue my coding education by perusing this with added cartoon foxes.