“Even if things are difficult for you, it doesn’t mean its not for you. It may mean that you need help, it may mean that you need to work harder, it may mean that you need to enlist a study group, whatever it takes.”—Jocelyn Goldfein, encouraging women to stick with Math and Science even if they find them to be hard at first, via Washington Post
Wherein computer maven Ada Lovelace answers all your tech questions!
I want to learn to program and am trying to figure out where to start. I was wondering, would it be more useful to learn PHP, or Ruby on Rails, or are both skill sets necessary to become a successful developer?
Picking a language to code in is always a tough one, but I’m going to go ahead and recommend PHP.
PHP is a great language for getting started, mostly because there’s a lot less setup involved than if you’re trying to learn Ruby on Rails.
The fun part about programming for the web is actually having your stuff on the web. With PHP, you can just FTP your files to a web server and you should be good to go.
Most web hosts support PHP with little to not setup. Ruby on Rails support can be spotty, though, and you might have to be picky about directories, or install some special software, or read a lot of unpleasant documentation.
You can also start very very simply with PHP, just uploading one file to see how things work. Rails has a lot more moving parts, and you’re automatically getting into the hundreds-of-files territory as soon as you begin.
The other half of the equation is if you want to play around on your computer.
Ruby on Rails is pretty easy to install and run on your own computer, but you’ll need to be comfortable on the command line and have some decent googling-error-message skills. There are lots of versions of Ruby and Rails floating around out there and they don’t always cooperate!
I have been developing in Ruby on Rails for a while, and even I spend far more time googling weird error messages than I think is healthy.
Mind you, those are great skills for you to have and I know that you will absolutely gain them, but it can feel overwhelming right at the start. And the most important thing right now is for you to keep at it!
What’s great about PHP is that it’s super easy to get running on your computer. You can download MAMP (for Macs) or WAMP (for Windows) which takes care of a database (MySQL), a web server (Apache), and PHP installation for you. 5 minutes and you are up and running!
So, in conclusion: the more skills you can get the more successful you will be as a developer. But the best thing you can do right now is focus on learning one language and get super comfortable with it before moving onto the next one. You will learn a ton, and all of those skills will serve you well when you move on to conquer the rest!
Best of luck! Send me your projects, I can’t wait to see them!
Who is Ada and how does she know everything? Ada is Ada Lovelace, also known as the daughter of Lord Byron, and commonly considered the world’s first computer programmer. Read more about her here.
“I’m going to give you a piece of advice when you’re trying to learn something new: Never listen to people who try to make beginners feel like losers. For whatever reason, some people get off on making beginners feel like they’re worthless for attempting something. Maybe it’s because they feel threatened by new entrants, or maybe they were picked on as kids and this makes them feel powerful. Who knows, but generally if they’re trying to make you feel like a loser because right now you’re not that good at something, then just ignore them. They suck.”—Zed Shaw in Please Don’t Become Anything, Especially Not A Programmer
There is a big argument/discussion/debate going on over at Hacker News about whether the masses should learn to code.
We obviously stand in the “bring it on” camp—the more you know about the digital world around you, the better off you will be.
We wanted to give a big shout-out to Erik Hinton, writing as Esmooov on github, who wrote a fabulous post in defense of pursuing the path to universal digital literacy.
“I am only able to function in this digital wasteland of convenience— and not be dragged along sipping a slurpy — because my search space for problem solving and perception has been expanded by my learning to code.”
The truth is that people learn new skills for many reasons—and, not always with the goal of becoming a master. I, for instance, am a (very) amateur hacker, better-than-average cook, skilled mixologist, and hobbyist photographer.
I learned to do these things because I found them interesting. And, because it is human nature to want to learn new things—whether for pure pleasure or to better understand your place in the world. I’m not interested in becoming the next Andreas Gursky or Julia Child, I just find that learning, in and of itself, is rewarding.
This is the case with coding, as well. So much of what we do in our daily lives involves technology. Technology is being used not only to wake you up in the morning, but also to suggest what you should eat for breakfast; measure how productive you are at work; track your children’s activities; make you feel connected to others in your community and the world; and, do thousands of other things. Most people can’t make it through the day without somehow being touched by technology.
Seeking knowledge to build rewarding relationships with the tech in our lives is only natural.
So, as Erik says, “Learn to Program.” If only to gain a better understanding of the digital landscape in which we live.
P.S. We love any guy who is willing to man-up and teach himself how to sew! Brilliant.
Or How to Sew Your Way Into the Computing Sciences
A Lilypad Arduino powered tic-tac-toe board. Via Rainycatz
When I tell people that one of my personal goals is to bring more women into tech, and that I plan to do so by making tech learning fun and accessible, a lot of people - usually men - worry that what I am doing is patronizing. They worry that I am peddling a “dumbed down” version of tech learning, and that I think women need to be shielded from the “harder stuff.”
Inherent in this argument is the idea that this “harder stuff” - a more difficult, less accessible version of things - is the real version and thus the better version. But what if the more difficult, less accessible version is just that? Unnecessarily difficult and inaccessible?
What if finding ways to engage new audiences in technology isn’t patronizing, but powerful and potentially industry changing?
The truth is that we have a serious problem when it comes to women in tech and it’s about time we try some new ways to fix it. So let us for a minute, consider the case of Lilypad Arduino.
An Arduino is an “open-source, single-board microcontroller,” which basically means a Very Small Computer That You Can Make Do Neat Things. It can be used for all sorts of simple and fun electronic hardware projects, like making things beep and light blink.
Most Arduino kits need to be soldered together in order to work. Lilypad Arduino offers a neat alternative.
Lilypad Arduino is an Arduino kit that can be sewn together using conductive thread instead of solder and a soldering iron. It was created by Leah Buechley, a professor at the MIT Media Lab, and first made commercially available in 2007.
Sew circuits? What ridiculousness! Obviously something so simple, so feminine, so delicate couldn’t possibly be sufficient!
And yet the lights light up and the connections are made using tools found inside of any household sewing kit.
And women love it! They love it because it feels so funny, so novel. Circuit boards that are sewn together? Hilarious!
“A couple of years ago, I would have said that gendered activities [like sewable micro-controllers] were patronizing and the wrong way to bring women into fields where they’re underrepresented, but my mind has really changed about that,” she told me.
What she realized, as she has worked with women learning about electrical hardware for the first time, is that “we all have skills that we learn as kids that get planted in your reptile brain - those are skills you take for granted,” and are the skills you are comfortable using when you are in unfamiliar territory.
And for women, those skills may be more sewing, less soldering.
“So if people happen to be more comfortable making circuits out of conductive thread instead of solder, and those people happen to be primarily women, more power to them. If it works, let’s teach it.”
In 2010, Buechley and her colleague Benjamin Mako Hill conducted an online survey of Lilypad Arduino projects. What they found was “dramatic evidence that the LilyPad has opened things up to new audiences,” Buechley told me via email. A full 65% of Lilypad projects posted online were created by women, which dwarfs the 2% of Arduino projects created by women.
But there’s more to it then that women like sewing more than they like soldering.
A sewable microcontroller isn’t a “dumbed down” way to teach electrical hardware engineering, it’s a gateway to a world of wearable electronic projects. Lilypad Arduino can be made into all manner of funky and wearable electronic textiles, like a a Velcro tic-tac-toe game or a bike jacket that signals which way you are turning. The end game here is not soldering together a micro-controller, it’s sewing together electrical circuits in order to make something a life-saving turn signal biking jacket!
There is good science to support the idea that a more pragmatic approach to computer technology is more effective in bringing women into the computing sciences. A study conducted by Jane Margolis and Allan Fisher at Carnegie Mellon showed that women were more likely to see computers as a tool they could use to advance their goals, while men were often interested in the machine as an end to itself. Margolis and Fisher named this phenomenon “computing with a purpose,” and found that female undergraduates were five times more likely to cite the ability to use computing technology in other fields as the main reasons they majored in computer science.
I am not arguing that everyone should switch from soldering to sewing circuit boards together. Anyone who wants to be a hardware engineer will eventually have to get out the soldering iron, just as anyone who wants to become a software engineer will eventually have to slog through the same boring tech manuals as the rest of us.
But the primary barrier to entry for women in tech is that they don’t feel comfortable with computer hardware and software and they don’t see why it would be useful to them. So if introducing them to technology and hardware via “softer,” more pragmatic methods helps, then fantastic! Sign me up.
The survey, published by U.S. division of the British tech recruitment group Harvey Nash, attests that just 9% of U.S. chief information officers (CIOs) are female, down from 11% last year and 12% in 2010. According to Reuters, 30% of the 450 American tech executives polled said their IT groups have no women at all in management positions. What’s more, when the same group of executives was asked whether women were underrepresented, roughly one half said no.
Which, I concede, is all bad news for women. To the boy’s club of CIOs in America, women aren’t around and nobody seems to have a problem with it.
But I do. I think it’s wrong and bad and exactly the attitude that’s keeping women from earning anything close to our brothers, boyfriends and husbands.
“Vanessa used Nokogiri to take data from Backpage.com and transferred it into a Ruby application in order to identify certain patterns and instances. What was uncovered with the use of Yoko Harada’s Nokogiri were numerous advertisements that were then flagged as possible advertisements for child prostitution for Backpage to investigate.”—From When Women Code, They Change the World, via My Tech Letter
"They called me the other day and said they just wanted to check in," said Lee (whose numerical middle initial invokes Chinese numerology and was intended to set apart her otherwise common name). "I said, ‘Oh yeah, that reminds me … I thought your Super Bowl ads were sexist and I want to change my registrar. Thanks for reminding me.’"
"We do have power," she added. "There are totally consequences."
I sat, staring out the window at the world, a life-sized blender mixing graffiti and iron smelts before my eyes. This world’s too big for such a a little language, I thought. Poor little thing doesn’t stand a chance. Doesn’t have legs to stand on. Doesn’t have arms to swim.
And yet, there I was. One little man on a flimsy little train (and I even still had a baby tooth to lose at the time) out of billions of people living on a floating blue rock. How can I knock Ruby? Who’s to say that I’m not going to happen to choke on my cell phone and die later that evening. Why’s dead, Ruby lives on.
“Do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do, and don’t expect anything in return. Your values are one of the only possessions you have that no one can take away from you. Doing the right thing may not always get you what you think you want in the moment, but it will almost always leave you feeling better about yourself in the long run.”—
FOR years, the problem has been referred to, tongue in cheek, as the Dave-to-Girl ratio.
To track Carnegie Mellon University’s progress in attracting female undergraduates to its School of Computer Science, faculty, staff and students there have kept count of the number of men named Dave versus the number of women.
“We simply cannot afford to alienate large chunks of the workforce," notes Dan Shapiro, a tech entrepreneur who sold his comparison-shopping company to Google and now works there as a product manager. Shapiro, who has blogged in the past about sexism in the tech industry, notes that "it is a widely understood truth that the single biggest challenge to a successful startup is attracting the right people. To literally handicap yourself by 50 percent is insanity.”—"Gangbang Interviews" and "Bikini Shots": Silicon Valley’s Brogrammer Problem, Tasneem Raja, Mother Jones, April 26, 2012
Wherein computer maven Ada Lovelace answers all your tech questions!
Dear Ada: If your computer could be a server, why don’t more people just set up their own servers rather than use a web hosting service?
Yours, Serving in the City
Dear Serving: If you want to use your computer as a server you need it to be on and connected to the internet at all times, otherwise your site will go down. This is commonly referred to as “uptime” which means the percentage of time a site is available for browsing. Industry standard uptime is 99.99%, anything less is no good!
With that in mind, think about all of the times that your internet is weird or your computer runs out of battery or Firefox freezes everything and you need to restart. Basically, if you wanted to use a computer as a server you really wouldn’t want to do anything else with it EVER and if you ever wanted to use it for something else you would need a backup computer to be your web server in the meantime.
At that point, with the amount of work that would take and the cost of having at least two to three computers on hand (one to be your personal computer, one to serve as the primary web server, one to be the backup web server), you are much better off paying $15/month to a web hosting company and letting them worry about all of that.
Who is Ada and how does she know everything? Ada is Ada Lovelace, also known as the daughter of Lord Byron, and commonly considered the world’s first computer programmer. Read more about her here. Send your questions to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
These words might mean nothing to you, or you might be in stitches at the sheer n00bness of it all. Doesn’t matter. There is no One True Path. The tools and technology available today have made it cheaper, easier and more possible than even for ‘non-technical‘ people to learn and experiment.
I don’t agree with the argument that “everyone should know how to code”, but I do feel very strongly that no one should feel too intimidated to learn.
”—Stacy-Marie Ishmael in program OriginStory;, a blog post chronicling her adventures in technology through installing SpintoApp, a new open source Ruby on Rails content management system. Read the whole story here.