Finding my love for computer science education

By Jessica Dassanayake

In honour of back-to-school season, I figured it would be fitting to share my story of highs and lows with computer science education and why I am so passionate about encouraging others to learn to code in a safe space like Sudo’s.

I have been coding for about 4 years and my start with learning how to program had me defeated for a little while. My first exposure to programming was learning HTML in my high school communication technology class. At that time, I had no idea what I wanted to pursue after high school. I was artistic and really enjoyed graphic design, so I spent a lot of my free time using Photoshop. However, I also loved math (yes, I was THAT kid who was passionate about algebra).

After learning basic HTML, I decided to take an Introduction to Computer Science class in Grade 11. The first day was not what I was expecting. In a class of almost 30 kids, I was the only girl and it definitely freaked me out. I clearly was the odd one out in a class of guys, many who had a decent amount of prior computer knowledge in either hardware, software, robots, or gaming- whatever they were interested in exploring at the time. It got worse when my teacher asked me why I chose to take a computer science class instead of a design class. He told me that the class would be really tough for me to succeed in because of my lack of experience and that I should think about if I really wanted to take the class. I was so confused and worried that the course would be a big mistake ending in failure.

Fast forward a few months. I had gotten past the phase of freaking out about failing the course. While I still felt uncomfortable being the only girl, I just focused on my assignments, learned Java, and worked through the course material. My morale boosted when I attended my first programming competition. Typically, students would enter this school board-wide competition in teams of 4. However, since I was on the school’s female team, the team only had 2 members (the other girl was in the grade above me). With my basic knowledge of Java, I did not have the full skillset to do really well in the competition, however we were the top female team and managed to make it to the regional competition at Queen’s University. I met like-minded students during those competitions and to see other girls learning to code was really uplifting. Oh, and I ended the up with the top mark in my Computer Science course out of all the students, and I decided to take another computing course in Grade 12 :)

At Queen’s Conference on Business & Technology with some like-minded women

Fast forward to the end of my senior year of high school. I decided to take a chance on computer science and pursue a degree at Queen’s University. Although I had a rocky start with programming in high school, my first few weeks of university confirmed that I had chosen the right path for me. I met so many wonderful ladies who were interested in computing, and seeing clubs like WiSC (Women in the School of Computing), Robogals, and Sudo was really encouraging! Queen’s also has record numbers when it comes to female enrollment in computer science courses. Professor Wendy Powley mentioned that her first year coding classes have a female enrolment of 45%, which I find is absolutely incredible!

At an Awesome Kingston event with some of the Sudo team members

Fast forward to now. I am about to start my second year at Queen’s and my second year on the Sudo Team. I declared my program as Computing and Mathematics, and I am pursuing a Certificate in Business and a Certificate in Media Studies too. I am so glad that I got involved with Sudo during my first year in Kingston to help encourage others to learn to code. As the youngest member currently on the Sudo team, I am so grateful for the incredible role models that I have met through the organization.

Programming is such an awesome skill to have with tech rapidly growing, and if you find a safe, comfortable environment to learn it in (whether it is at home, at school, or through an organization), you’re golden! My final thought is to step out of your comfort zone and learn something new if you have the slightest interest in it. Don’t be defeated if it doesn’t go how you expected because you never know what that learning experience could bring you in the future!

Happy back-to-school season everyone, and don’t stop learning!