What Learning to Code Taught Me

or an education in reverse

Recently, I listened to a talk given by Kathryn Parsons, founder of Decoded. She recommended looking back to your childhood interests to find what your core passions are. My recent brush with coding reminded me of a childhood spent tinkering with things: I built my own radio, loved Lego, and was forever making things out of cardboard. What happened to that girl?

I was brought up in a household where gender wasn’t an issue, with parents who were keen to nurture any of my interests. So if my Mum and Dad aren’t the culprits, who is? The only other option I could come up with was school. I was a quiet, hard-working “good” girl who excelled at everything, but I felt more comfortable dealing with interpretations in history and English. Thinking back, it was maths, and my fear of it that changed the course of my academic life. A succession of scary maths teachers left me with zero confidence, and no desire to try. Maths was simply not how my brain worked, I decided, and I would avoid it from now on. Just like that, the whole world of science, technology and reason was closed to me.

My grades also funnelled me into humanities, and then to a place reading Comparative American Studies at the University of Warwick, which I loved and found endlessly interesting. The problem came when I graduated, a passionate interest in American society does not an easy job search make. I fell into marketing by accident. I loved writing, but I found out I also loved data, and what it could tell me. I was beginning to rediscover what my brain was capable of, and boy was it a shock.

Then I signed up for Code First Girls, due to the incessant twitter buzz around the importance of coding and a little bit of a push from a housemate, and it was amazing! I met a lot of great, interesting, and engaged women. Most importantly I learnt that the stuck, I-don’t-understand feeling is nothing to be ashamed of, but rather a stage in the learning process to work through. I might not ever be a coder, but learning to code taught me that I wasn’t naturally terrible at anything that wasn’t deep textual analysis of the American canon.

School shouldn’t close down anyone’s interests. Education should open up minds, and teach people that learning doesn’t stop. Your brain cannot be full. Coding might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it is an ideal way to open someone up to technology, and understand how the world will be built from now on.

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