This is a guest blog by Linda Liukas Author, Illustrator, Programmer.
Linda Liukas is inspiring a new generation of programmers through her book ‘Hello Ruby’ and very much an advocate for making tech human and gender diversity in programming. We recently had the privilege of hearing from her and dreaming about the future of tech together at Nokia’s Solution Experience Centre.
Little girls don’t know they are not supposed to like computers.
Computers are binary. But as Walt Whitman said, we humans contain multitudes. We need to get a more diverse set of people to see computers not as boring, mechanical and lonely, but as something they can poke, tinker and turn around.
My journey to the world of computers started in 2001 at the tender age 14 – and with a deep love for the then vice president of United States, Al Gore. I had all this teenage girl energy and passion and I decided to do what any girl would want to do: show my affection.
So I built the world’s first and last Finnish website for Al Gore and because there was no Facebook, no Pinterest and no Tumblr, I needed to learn PHP, HTML, CSS and how set up my own servers. And that’s how programming started for me: as a tool to express myself, much like in earlier years I would with Legos or crayons or theatre plays or my guitar.
But then there were other boys. Other things to get excited about, like creating make believe worlds, conjugating French irregular verbs, knitting socks and the philosophy of Bertrand Russell. And I started to feel that maybe this technology world was after all lonely, boring and mechanical.
Here’s what I think today. Little girls don’t know yet they are not supposed to like computers. They are precise, they can concentrate, they are really awesome with stories and expressing themselves and asking questions like what if and why and how, and they don’t know they are not supposed to like computers.
It’s the parents who know. They think programming is an esoteric scientific discipline, full of mystery, almost like nuclear physics as far as relevance to day to day life goes. And they are right: there’s an awful lot to know about syntax, control flow, data structures, algorithms, protocols, paradigms and practices.
“Our world is increasingly run by software and we need more diversity in the people who are building it”
We’ve made computers smaller and smaller, built layers upon layers of abstraction between the man and the machine. We teach the kids about human biology, how combustion engines work or how to be an astronaut, but when the kids ask us what a bubble sort algorithm is or how the computer knows what to show when you press play in YouTube or if the Internet is a place, we fall silent.
“It must be magic,” some say.
“It’s too complicated,” some say.
But it’s not magic and it’s not complicated. It all just happened really fast. Computer scientists and engineers built these beautiful machines for us, but they also made them foreign. And that’s why no-one recognized that as a little girl I had many great programming qualities: learning French irregular verbs taught me pattern recognition skills, knitting socks is all about following a sequence of symbolic commands with loops inside of them and that Russell’s quest for an exact language between English and mathematics found it’s home inside the computer.
The kids of today swipe, pinch and tap their way through the world, but unless they are taught to build with computers they’ll be consumers instead of creators. The more approachable we feel technology is, the more we play with it, take it apart, tweak and tinker with it, the better sense of what’s possible we have.
And Linda is not alone! Meet the brothers with a bold plan to teach every kid to code.
Share your thoughts on this topic by replying below – or join the Twitter discussion with @nokianetworks using #networksperform #maketechhuman #ICTgirls #womenintech #HelloRuby.