Recently I worked in quite a few projects aiming at empowering people, such as students but also underrepresented groups in the industry, to code. One of the larger ones is probably Jugend Hackt, a Hackathon for teens between 13 and 19, where I mentored a group in its Berlin edition earlier this year. In the past I had mentored groups of high school students as well, trying to hand over the projects I did at my former school nearly nine years ago to a newer Generation of students, but they ended up employing a network administrator instead of sticking with the concept of a entirely student run schools network, like it was nine years ago. This already should’ve raised some questions I had to ask myself in terms of what my approach and scope to programming is and how it, most likely, isn’t comparable (one shouldn’t compare such things at all anyways) to the experiences other people make.
I got always annoyed by people who claimed that programming was some magic wizadry witchy work which can only be done by a chosen few bunch of nerds™, because that’s what toxic nerd culture is all about and as a queer woman in tech there’s hardly anything more disgusting than toxic males believing they’re like Captain America for writing a few lines of code, pushing others away by creating a harmful and hostile environment instead of a warm and welcoming one.
So I tried to create a more warm and welcoming environment somehow claiming that everyone is able to code when they want to learn this, because Computer Science and Coding isn’t rocket science (sorry fairydust), but a skill people are able to learn. And while I still believe this is true, I feel like I miscommunicate and underestimate the time one has to invest in learning new things as in a new programing language, because I am so used to learn these things that I lost the sense of what it was like to be a beginner on that terms.
This has something to do with my self-esteem issues as well probably, because I always play my own work down instead of being proud of what I’ve achieved and how much effort some things afford.
A close friend mistrusted my capability of estimating how easy certain tasks are for beginners recently and criticized the bad habit of downplaying learning effort, which can be really harmful to beginenners, and I couldn’t be more thankful for this & they couldn’t be any more right on that one. I have to do better.
Programming and Drawing
I started drawing again recently, and most of the time nearly quitted my efforts on finally doing that web comic, because I got frustrated easily by not being quite there where I wanted to be in terms of my skills. This reminded me on how it felt like being a coding beginner as well, since I’ve learned Python 13 years ago, started soldering 10 years ago, and nonetheless I was overwhelmed at first and afraid of how difficult programming seemed to be.
Anyways, I’ve found myself spending hours on doing the most basic drawing things, so I guess that would be a better way of measuring how difficult learning things are, then comparing my approach on learning all things code, I may not have a Computer Science degree but a lot of work experience, already knowing how programming languages work, to the approaches beginners may have to this.
A better way of communicating things?
This leaves me with the question, how to communicate the effort of learning coding things, while meeting my communication wishes on mentoring new people. The communication has to be:
- encouraging and empowering
- because coding is a skill and it is learnable
- discouragement shouldn’t have a place in that
- what does not mean to encourage a total newbie to set-up their own mailserver or stuff like that
- but to realistically communicate the effort of doing things
Maybe it’s a good idea to step back and listen first on that one, because people, no matter if they’re new to a field or not, are perfectly capable of communicating their skills and evaluating how much time they need, and my task should be more on the helping and encouraging side. I shouldn’t even comment on how difficult things may end up to be, because I shouldn’t play a role in what other people think is easy or not anyways, since I am only able to estimate that for myself.