Never Too Old to Learn How to Code

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A couple of years ago, while picking out meat in the deli section at the grocery store I started speaking with a lady who was searching for employment but was finding  she couldn’t get a job because she had no current job skills. We discussed her years of being a stay at home mom, and she listed out her many years of volunteering with local nonprofits.  All I could think to say at the time was to give her words of encouragement in regards to finding a job.

Looking back, I wish I had directed the conversation in an entirely different direction.  I know now that you are never too old to learn new job related skills. Usually people enter higher education without knowing exactly what they want to do as a career, although eventually with a bit of direction or luck they stumble upon their major. Often, once you select your major, it’s really hard to explore other career options without being delayed in graduation.  Early on, I decided to major in communications because I thought there were many different career options with a liberal arts degree. Like many students, once I locked into my major, I didn’t explore other classes that weren’t in my degree track. If I was allowed to take other class outside my major, I might have looked into taking a beginning Computer Programming class.

Even though I did not get my original degree in Computer Programming, I decided that shouldn’t stop me from learning computer-programming skills. My first experience with computer programming was a couple of years ago when I attended a one day introduction to a programming language called Ruby on Rails hosted by Rails Girls. Ruby on Rails is a programming language that has become popular in the last few years and seems to be an easier entry into programming. If you want to learn more, check out the Ruby on Rails website.

Before I went, my husband told me not to feel bad if I got lost during the one day class because it might be overwhelming. I’m so glad he told me this because I have never felt so lost in my life. I do not blame Rails Girls because they did a great job of giving handouts explaining everything we were going to be doing during the training, however I didn’t know most of the underlying programming vocabulary to know how to even read the handouts. I needed a vocabulary class before I even entered the one day event.

I needed to start out learning basics with HTML, which “is a markup language that web browsers use to interpret and compose text, images and other material into visual or audible web pages.”    A good place to start learning the basics of HTML is Code Academy because their free tutorials make it easier to gain basic programming skills and understand basic concepts. After my first experience with Ruby on Rails, I started thinking that I might be too old to learn how to code because the only people I saw coding was young folks. I befriended one of the teachers from the Rails Girls event and asked him to speak to a group of women about computers in general. I let him put together the program and I think the small group of women who came to my gathering asked some great questions but they just wanted high-level information about computers and not specific programming questions.

A year went by after I put together my class and I decided I had an idea for a startup. When I looked at putting together my start up, I hired a developer friend of mine to help build the site. He did a great job for the amount I was paying him, but I did not have the funds to make the site the way I had vision in my mind. After much thought, I reached out to the Rails developer I had befriended so many month ago. We sat down to coffee and I asked him to help me improve the site. I offered to pay him with equity because I really didn’t have any funds to hire him outright. In Houston, developers are in high demand, so getting equity in a startup was not very appealing to him because so many people ask for this type of arrangement.

The best thing anyone has ever said to me was:

“Learn how to do it yourself, you can learn how to code.”

This is what my now mentor and friend from Rail Girls told me because he wasn’t interested in helping me build my business, but instead encouraged me to learn the skills I needed on my own. I’m so happy he didn’t help me because it pushed me into the path I am in right now. This past June, I said enough was enough and I continued my path of learning Ruby on Rails. Like me, if you want to learn how to code a website, Ruby on Rails is a really good first programming language to learn after you have the basics down like HTML.  Dip your toe into coding is all about taking the first step in the process. No one ever suggested I get into computer programming because of all the different stereotypes out there that may have kept me out of the tech field.  A couple of stereotypes that still keep women out of the tech field today are a lack of female role models, being moved into management and out of programming, and social pressures that come out of being a female in the tech industry. We need to keep chipping away at these computer science stereotypes of women, so we can have more women enter the computer science industry.

However, there seems to be a shift: more women are getting into the tech field. For the first time since the University of California Berkeley has been keeping track, there were more women than men enrolled in their introductory computer science course in the spring semester in 2014. I have actually gone back to school myself to get an AA in Computer Programming from the local Community College to fill in some holes I have from learning on my own. I don’t think the AA is necessary, however it’s good credentials to add to your resume but a great portfolio of work you have done will do the same thing.

Since I started taking computer classes, there seems to be more women than men in any of my computer science classes. I guess we are kicking those old and classic tech related stereotypes down. With the shift of having more women in technology classes, I bet we will see more women in technology related careers. In 2013, just 26 percent of computing jobs in the U.S. were held by women according to the American Association of University Women, a nonprofit that promotes gender equality. When women see other women in a field or career, I think psychologically we don’t feel as out of place. In my classes, I don’t feel out of place at all because women are the majority.

You can learn anything you want to learn. If I saw that woman I met in the deli all those years ago again now, I would tell her it’s never too late to have a second career.  If you don’t have the skills necessary to get a job now, go out and get them. I met a 91 year old woman a few years back who is taking History classes at a local Community College. If she can go back to school and learn something new, so can you!

As I was teaching myself how to code, one of the most challenging parts was finding the best teaching resources available. Here is a list of resources I found helpful: Rail Girls, CodeAcademy, Step-by-Step tutorials online from Mackenzie Childs, Lynda, and when you get stuck…just google it. As I was finding my way around the basics of coding it would have been nice to know someone was out there if I got stuck, so PM at @KelsayAnn714 if you have any questions as you get started and I’ll try to help you get unstuck. Never think you can’t learn how to code.

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Photo from pixabay.com.

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  • Kathy Valunas

    Great article, Kelsay, and thanks for sharing your link! I have to agree with you about women in the technology career arena… they have been in the minority for years but that is slowly changing. I remember when I took my first computer programming class in Basic in 1991. Thought this would be a great career field but I was the only female in the class and, at the age of 44, was looked at like I was “misplaced” and should not be there. It didn’t take me long to realize I was not going to make it and quickly changed my major from computer science to graphic design. Now that I look back over this technology career change (after years in a medical career), I find myself loving the programming I teach to others who want to be web designers and developers like yourself. So I have to say amen… I wholeheartedly agree… even at the ripe “young” age of 67, I will never be too old to learn because I am constantly learning something new with programming for the web!