Women Who Learn, Women Who Collaborate, Women Who Code
How Google and Udacity scholarship recipients formed a dev-ops project team, collaborated, and collectively created a real-life mobile app dedicated to “Famous Women”
Most programmers share a similar story — a story full of beginnings. Full of moments when everything feels new, when inspiration and motivation are to be found everywhere. In these moments, you know you are able to create something special, something original, something valuable. You make progress, and from progress comes more progress. Your knowledge grows, and you feel accomplished, satisfied, and proud.
Programmers also know there is another side to this story. In between the bright moments are the weary days. The days when the learning path seems to have no end. Always there is more to learn, more to study. Suddenly, your bright ideas don’t seem so bright. Your goals seem impossible to accomplish. Problems overwhelm you, and motivation gives way to doubt. Around you, the remnants of good intentions pile higher, and what you once so passionately wanted to pursue, loses its appeal to you.
This swing from motivated to devastated and back again is something I’ve experienced more times than I care to count. Each time I felt down, I asked myself why, and what happened. I’ve asked myself these questions so many times that I don’t remember my own answers.
Programmers are by nature “doers,” so we keep on. We tell ourselves, “This time it’s going to be different.” Do we believe ourselves when we say this?
I want to tell you a story about when it WAS different this time.
The story begins on the 6th of November, 2017. This date will stay with me forever. I had applied for a scholarship from Google and Udacity, and on this day, I was awarded a Google Developer Scholarship, and accepted into the program: Android Basics.
The opportunity came with a twist: I would get access to a learning program which would help me build my first Android app, but I would also join a community of other scholarship recipients, all of whom were aspiring Android programmers. The rules were simple: complete the course content within 3 months, do all the quizzes, and be active in the scholarship community. Ask questions, share technical problems, help and support others. In a nutshell, engage.
I was skeptical — how would this time-consuming social involvement help me learn?
Since being active was mandatory to be accepted to the next stage of the scholarship, and because engagement was highly recommended by the program mentors, I started in from the very first day. All the participants were invited to join a Slack workspace dedicated to Android-related chats, and I joined as well. It was so crowded at first, you almost got a bot impression. Fortunately, multiple Slack channels were subsequently created, and everything became manageable. From then on, the experience was incredible. Everyone — students, mentors, community managers — was so nice, so helpful, and so cheerful, that communication itself became a kind of learning experience. Getting and giving support was motivating.
One special group took on critical significance for me: “women_tech_makers.” This channel was created as an open space for all women in the program, who wanted to encourage each other, and explore ways to work together outside of the program.
There was a lot of talk early on about creating an app, but not much work got done. It was difficult to get started — there was no leader to take responsibility and delegate tasks. Many of us felt useless, with almost no knowledge. What could we do to help? Everyone waited for a sign to begin. Everyone, except Malgoska. She simply started working. She suggested using the Miwok application from the Udacity multiscreen course as an example app structure, and proposed her original design for a “Famous Women” app.
Something clicked in all our minds then, and we suddenly understood that collaboration is about taking initiative, and about everybody getting to work. We realized that you have to find a task for yourself to start something. You have to look for what you can improve, and what solutions you can suggest. That is how the real work started. After that, more women joined with their ideas and solutions. We continue to work this way today.
We learned an invaluable lesson. The key to great collaboration is taking the initiative, and understanding your own responsibilities; uncovering your personal strengths, and having the support of other members.
We all did a lot of research to make everything work in exactly the right way.
We have now created a “Famous Women” app with a growing list of women — it features 14 currently, and different developers have added to it. The app has a main page with the list of famous women, and each woman on the list is clickable and navigates you to a details page. There is also a search engine, a page about the application, and an entertainment feature — a short quiz about famous women.
After this experience, I have a newfound understanding of — and appreciation for — the concept of #BetterTogether. There are so many advantages to collaboration. People help you up when you stumble. When your will weakens and your passion falters, they keep you engaged. You learn that others struggle with similar problems, and that it’s easier to overcome difficulties together. The support you receive from teammates helps your bright ideas shine. Observing a project as it grows and develops motivates you. Working with others allows you to learn from your peers. Each of us comes with different experiences, with different backgrounds. This diversity enriches us, and creates new, fascinating opportunities.
I deeply believe that the adventure — which started in November, and which led to the creation of the Famous Women app — is something very special. It is a real lesson — not just about learning how to code, but a lesson in learning how to live.