I remember being in high school, sitting in a back corner of a warm computer lab listening to the keystrokes and mouse clicks of my classmates. It was my first web design class, and I was finally going to get a chance to develop my technology chops (which was very important since this thing called “the Internet” was starting to take over my teenage life).
I picked up on the web lingo and aced my final by building a website devoted to guitars, and yet I often felt out of place. My teacher always seemed surprised when I breezed through coding exercises or completed assignments with little error and without asking questions. Looking back, I can’t help but think his shock came from the fact that I was one of two girls taking his computer class — and I was nailing it.
I got to thinking about that high school class recently as buzz built over the Hour of Code. During the week of December 9–12, the Hour of Code movement aims to get more people — especially women — to take on just one hour of code through online tutorials that look more like games than complex computer language.
AAUW knows all about the need to get more girls interested in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields, and the barriers that keep many women out. One of the most pernicious barriers is the stereotype that things like coding “just don’t interest girls.”
But I refuse to bend to that belief. Coding challenge: accepted.
When I logged on to start my Hour of Code, more than 9 million people had already taken part. Feeling somewhat rusty (I hadn’t coded since a computer course in college), I opted to start with the beginner tutorial featuring the popular game Angry Birds.
But when the familiar red (and angriest) bird asked for my help with catching the nasty pig, I simply dragged and placed a few “move forward” commands, then clicked the “run program” button. And just like that — BAM! That bird got his pig and I had just written five lines of code.
Then I got to thinking: If I could help that bird get his pig, what else could I do in my hour of code? How about build my own iPhone game?
I opened an app-making tutorial. To say the screen of gaming code made me nervous would be a gross understatement. The tutorial was a leap away from the beginner level I’d tried in the first demo. But I wanted to challenge myself, and with the screen already open, I refused to turn back. It was my turn to create the next big craze in smartphone games!
I was asked to code for the width and height of a smartphone so the game would fit the miniature screen. Then all I needed to do was add a few villain spaceships and a hero to take them out. Simple enough, right?
Error message after error message greeted me when I attempted to run the program. I couldn’t see the green rocket ship I was promised, my hero was nowhere to be found … The legitimacy of my tech skills was being tested. I felt tired and defeated.
I gave it one more go, keying in “//create Ship * ship.1,” and tasted the sweet victory of seeing that green ship scroll across the bottom of my mock iPhone screen. I even worked up the nerve to add two more enemy ships for my fearless female hero to take out (I managed to add her, too)!
That iPhone game was a tough one, and an unexpected reflection on my insecurities built up around STEM. But I’d proven I could do the hour(s) of code, just like millions of others. How great would it be if we could do the same for every girl who ever sat in front of a coding screen?
This post was cross-posted with permission from AAUW