Hey guys! My name is Alex, and I’m in the 2014 Girls Who Code Summer Immersion Program hosted at AppNexus! I just finished my first week at Girls Who Code, and based on what I’ve learned so far, I’m here with some basic advice for any girl who’s in the program or is considering applying for next year. Take a look:
1. Don’t feel afraid to try just because of premonitions! As a writer, I never, never, never thought I could code — I thought it involved heavy math and science (not my strongest suits), and thought that I had to have had prior experience to enter the Girls Who Code Summer Immersion Program. Absolutely none of that is true! Coding is really more of a language — a series of languages, actually — and so far, I’ve used math once: to figure out what each angle of a shape I was coding should be (each angle was exactly 51.42857142857143 — so, given that I clearly used a calculator to figure that out, it’s safe to say we didn’t do any hardcore stuff). Take a chance! You’ll be glad you did.
2. Every girl moves at her own pace. On my third day, we were coding a video game of paddleball. Although the game is a pretty simple concept for humans, I didn’t think it would be so simple for computers. While I was still figuring out how to get the mouse to control my paddle, the girl next to me was already customizing her game. I felt intimidated for a minute, but remembered that we’d both earned our spots in the program. If she could pick it up, then so could I. So don’t feel threatened! And later that day, I helped one of the more prodigious students code a square, when I was already onto coding heptagons. Which leads into my next point:
3. Don’t be afraid to ask for help! I’m deaf in one ear, and because I couldn’t hear instructions all that well in school, wound up figuring out most things for myself. That habit carried on into Girls Who Code. If I didn’t understand something, I would experiment or look over to see what the girl next to me was coding. While those strategies can work out short-term, you won’t actually learn anything. So don’t worry about seeming slow to the other girls; if you don’t understand something, ask the teacher or a TA for help! Once they help you work through it, you’ll have a breakthrough, like I did with the slot machine, and finally understand. Then girls will be looking at your code!
4. Don’t buy into stereotypes. When we think of coders, we think of antisocial, acne-covered men who live in their basements and play video games in their spare time. Those are fictional characters; they don’t exist! When walking into AppNexus, I saw plenty of friendly people playing air hockey and rocking out to Pharrell - and plenty of them were women. You could be a closeted nerd or a prom queen stereotype from a late-nineties teen movie — it doesn’t matter! What matters is how you code and what you create with it. If you want to code a virtual pair of heels, fine — just make sure you proofread your if/else statements.
5. Don’t get so hung up on blocks of code. On my first day at Girls Who Code, we were fortunate enough to hear from Theresa Vu, the Engineering Director of AppNexus. She wasn’t particularly passionate about computer science in college because she was so focused on data and algorithms rather than the outcome of her projects. In her own words: “It would be like if coding was astronomy — I was so focused on the telescope that I forgot to look at the stars.” In writing, I found the ability to create something beautiful out of nothing absolutely magical, and when I realized the same concepts carried into coding — when I saw what I could do — I was awestruck. If you ever feel frustrated with your code, just remember what it’s really all about. Stop to look at the stars.
Thanks for reading! I’ll be here all summer, so check back in next week for my next blog post!
Alex K. is a 15-year-old writer who is deaf in one ear. She attends high school and college and has written for Seventeen Magazine, the New York Times Learning Network, Scholastic, Johns Hopkins, and Lean In among others. She is currently working to develop a pair of closed-captioned movie-theater glasses for the deaf and hard-of-hearing.