Women used to dominate computer work, which you know if you saw the movie Hidden Figures. Today, however, more than eight in 10 software engineers are men. What happened?
Once men started entering the field, salaries went up and women got pushed out. The image of the ideal software engineer became a “hero” coder who worked alone. He was antisocial and almost always a man. This image made computer programing look boring and unwelcoming. The truth? Coding is super creative. And you don’t have to be a loner. People often write better code when they work together. That’s because the driver (the person controlling the computer) focuses on the details, while the navigator (the person looking over their shoulder) keeps thinking about the big picture.
By introducing more young people — boys and girls — to programming languages in a creative setting, we can start to to make the technology industry more inclusive. That said, learning to code doesn’t always have to be about finding a job. It can also be a way to express yourself. In a recent workshop at The Assembly, we explored creative coding, defined as a playful, collaborative, and open-ended approach to exploring and expressing with digital tools. To create, we used Scratch, a programing language that was originally created for kids at the MIT Media Lab. Like a Pixar movie, Scratch is made for kids, but also can be enjoyed by adults.
Like a Pixar movie, Scratch is made for kids, but also can be enjoyed by adults.
“People learn best by creating,” explained Saskia Leggett, an education consultant and member of The Assembly who used to work at Scratch. Saskia led the workshop with her friend Nicole Fish, who works as a software engineer. In just 45 minutes, us newbies became more familiar with coding basics. Working in teams, we learned how to add interactive elements like visual effects and sounds. We discovered that Scratch is like the Legos of coding. Using “blocks” of codes, you can program personalized, visual animations. It’s also addictive and fun. In the course of making an animated program of my daughter’s name “Lucie,” I was laughing and joking around with my coding partner. Who knew?
“Thinking about coding creatively helps level the playing field,” Nicole told us during the event. Before she became a software engineer, Nicole was a professional dancer in New York City. She never knew coding could be collaborative, like dancing. Once she understood the creative potential of programing, she realized she had a natural talent for it. After completing a bootcamp, Nicole now works as a software engineer.
Coding 101 Resources
If you’re curious about coding for yourself (or the kids in your life) give Scratch a try. Just make sure you block off some time. Once you start, it’s hard to stop. And if you want to know more about coding in general, check out these resources for beginners: