Engineers Week: Girl Day

A couple weeks ago, out of the blue, I received an e-mail from the Molly Bukowski, Director of Special Projects at Teza Technologies.  Turns out that people actually do read my blog!  She inquired as to whether I’d be interested in writing an entry for Girl Day, a day set aside during Engineers Week to show girls the creative side of engineering and encourage them to explore STEM careers.

Of course I said yes, not only because I was immensely flattered that someone read my blog, but also because I have a lot to say about encouraging girls to go ahead and push themselves to be whatever the heck they want.  I don’t see any problem with a girl deciding to be an engineer or an art teacher (or both!), but an oft-discussed problem with girls disregarding potential STEM careers is that they “can’t be what they can’t see,” and it’s hard for a girl to push herself to be an engineer if she doesn’t have readily-available female engineer role models.  On the flip side, I know plenty of amazing female art teachers.

It still feels a little odd to reply to “so what do you do?” with, “I’m a software developer”.  I’m sure that I have taken the most convoluted, expensive, roundabout path to software development possible, but now that I am a Bonafide Female Software Developer (TM), one of my goals is to be a readily-available female role model for girls.  Molly invited me to share my personal thoughts and experience for this entry, so I want to share my (very unique) path to software development.  So, kids, read on:

I was in junior high school when I first started making websites (about 1997).  Right now, if you want to learn how to make a website, you just Google “how to make a website” and can find zillions of tutorials for HTML and CSS (the code used to make websites).  When I started out, though, there were very few references for HTML available, almost none for CSS (it was very, very new), and Google hadn’t been invented yet. We did, however, have a program on the family computer called Microsoft FrontPage, where you could build a website by clicking on things and arranging them on the screen.  FrontPage would then let you switch over to see the code it generated for the website, and I was slowly able to figure out the code for things like text, images and buttons.

Know I could type some code and have it magically turn into a website was pretty much the most exciting thing ever.  As the Web really started taking off, I would re-write my websites over and over.  Each time, I’d try pushing just a little bit further, to make my site that much cooler.  In high school, my parents let me drill holes in the ceiling so that I could run a line from the cable modem in dad’s office to my computer in my bedroom.  I routinely stayed up way past my bedtime re-doing my websites and chatting with friends on AIM (which was like Facebook Messenger, except way more anonymous and easy to use).  My junior year, my web development hobby actually got me a boyfriend!  I’m not kidding–I entered my website in a contest for high school web designers and won first place in my category.  To find out whether or not I won the big prize, I had to go to an awards ceremony at the local community college, which is where I met a boy who won first place in another category, and we dated for like, six whole months.  (For the record, I did not win the big prize.  The big prize was an iPod and it was won by a team of six boys who all worked on the winning website together.  No idea how they split it up.  Also, last I heard, the boy I dated is also working in software development.)

Naturally, all of this obsession with making websites and understanding how the web worked meant that I went to a really awesome technical college, majored in computer science, and… wait, wait… that’s not the story at all.  I didn’t do any of that.  Instead, I went to art school, transferred to a liberal arts school, majored in art education, then art, then art history, transferred to state school, graduated with a BA in art history, went to London, earned a MA in art history…

So what caused me to close my editor at age 19 and walk away from building websites for ten years?

Part of it was that I couldn’t be what I couldn’t see.  I knew that college-level computer science required a lot of advanced math, which I’m really terrible at.  Another part of it was that the only real programming I’d done was some BASIC as a little kid and a few attempts at JavaScript in the early 2000’s.  HTML and CSS are markup languages–they’re used to display data, not manipulate it.  I was good at drawing, interpreting poems, and remembering random historical facts, and so I was advised to go into something more suitable to my existing skills than to try and fit my bad-at-math, no-programming-experience self into ‘real’ computer science.  All the comp sci students I knew were super into computer hardware, had tons of programming experience already, and were dangerously good at math–and, except for one, they were all guys.  It was really intimidating, so I played down how cool I think computers are and became a really good sport about people asking me what kind of job I thought I’d be able get with an art history degree.

Turns out, I’m a software developer with an art history degree.  I love drawing and writing and taking photographs, but I also really love to code.  After I decided not to pursue a PhD, a friend of mine suggested I go back to making websites.  He sent me a couple e-books to get me caught up to the new developments with HTML5 and CSS3 and gave me a some challenges to try and recreate things with my new-old skills.  It felt really, really good to get back into it, and I knew I was on the right path.  Just re-learning HTML and CSS wasn’t enough to get me a job, though–I knew I had to at least tackle JavaScript again to be a web developer, so I decided to go to a programming bootcamp… and this Monday, I started my first software development job.

I’m really glad I went to bootcamp.  We Can Code IT is focused on getting women and minorities into computer science, and even though the program has only been around for a year, it’s already seems to be paying off for the Cleveland tech community.  I’m really excited to see where it goes–so excited that I’ve contracted with WCCI to teach programming workshops for kids in addition to my full-time development job.

If you’re looking to get started learning code, I’ve included some links here that might help, as well as a special infographic from Teza about women in STEM degree programs and careers.

Happy coding, ladies! 😉


Suggested resources:

Scratch: a fun, free creative learning community based around an easy-to-learn, easy-to-use visual programming language.  Great for kids and those just starting out with code.

Codecademy: learn to code interactively, for free.  Includes lessons on HTML, CSS, JavaScript, Python, Ruby, and more.

Khan Academy: a free education site with computer science lessons including how to code with HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and SQL.  Good for math, science and art history lessons, too!

w3 Schools: a developer site with tutorials and reference for web languages including HTML, CSS, PHP and jQuery.

We Can Code IT: offers full-time and part-time .NET programming bootcamps in Cleveland, Ohio as well as children’s camps and workshops.  Diversity focus.

Software Guild: a 12-week, full-time Java/.NET programming bootcamp in Akron, Ohio.

Engineers Week_Girl Day