Week 2: Gender and Ruby Concepts.

So before becoming totally into programming and coding, I studied to be a gender theorist. And that probably won’t come as a surprise to those of you reading this (I mean, you found your way here after all so the jig may already be up on that!). When I was studying my MSc in Gender, Media and Culture at the LSE, one of the teachings that we came back to time and time again was the fact that gender is everywhere and operating in everything. This was such a pervasive concept to drive home, that it provided nonstop fodder for academic gender jokes as well as out of the box theoretical ideas.

When I started on my new career path to code, there was a part of me that really thought I might be leaving gender (as an area of thought, critique and studies) behind — which saddened me. But even as my friends pointed out that I’d still be “doing gender” simply by existing as a women coder, I still hoped that I’d find it lurking in coding and hiding behind concepts, just for my own amusement.

And in week 2 I bloody found it.

The first two weeks at Maker’s are stressful. Not only do you suddenly meet a whole load of people, but you also have a whole load of concepts thrown into your lap. Constantly battling the need to succeed at all costs, learn effectively, finish the damned challenge, and be the world’s most gracious pair partner can really put the pressure on, and it would be a lie to say that I didn’t struggle. But in between coding highs, and syntax error lows I had the gender breakthrough I had been waiting for!

In the week 2 skills workshops we worked through a number of important object oriented Ruby concepts and design patterns. These things included the likes of delegation, YAGNI (you ain’t gonna need it), designing to an interface rather than an implementation, preferring composition to inheritance, and of course abstracts and concretes. Bogged down with this week’s challenge, at first the workshops went completely over my head — but once we got to “abstracts and concretes”, I suddenly felt my gender-senses tingling. I mean after all, gender theory is nothing if not an exploration of abstracts and concretes? When we apply gender to anything — film, politics, policy, academics — we are more often than not comparing, advocating or raging against values made up of abstracts and concretes.

Gender theory is nothing if not an exploration of abstracts and concretes.

Understanding better the concretes and the abstract concepts that you are working with, especially in user stories, allows a programmer to efficiently design code that can be implemented cleanly and effectively. But wrapping your head around these concepts to diagram out, let alone code can be rather tricky. Immediately though, I was able to map out in my brain ideas that were abstract from those that were concrete. After a good week and a half of feeling like an imposter who didn’t know how to verbalise my little knowledge of coding in positive ways to help my pair partners, I suddenly felt like I was on solid ground with this and a lot clicked into place. I suddenly found myself using Connell’s theory of hegemonic masculinity to explain how we can design our code into different classes so as to better delegate the functions of our code effectively when implementing an oyster card type travel system.

I’m not sure if my cohort could follow — but in my brain it was making perfect sense. Hegemonic masculinities call into a power hierarchy combinations of things both abstract and concrete to order society around patriarchal values. Now, discussing whether or not the oyster card is also a symbol patriarchal problems is a topic for another time, but being able to envision a power structure that was a spectrum of both abstracts and concretes made diagramming our code plan out effectively so much easier than I could have hoped for.

While we are learning to code we are constantly being told that we should break the code to learn it better. Well I think I broke my brain years ago with gender theory, and funny enough that it STILL is making me learn better.

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