This post is inspired by Sarah Allen’s blog post: “one year of sf ruby”
One year ago today, I also had a very pivotal experience. I attended my first technical conference– an unconference, a barcamp — at the Rochester Institute of Technology. (http://barcamproc.org) I had just moved to Rochester, NY from San Diego, CA with my husband, Alan. Up until that point, I had only ever seen HTML and CSS (sparingly.) I was familiar with HTML and in-line styles. And I knew how to use things like myspace and facebook. My background was exclusively education and English (literature and writing.) I was interested in programming, but I felt a severe barrier to entry: I thought it was too technical for me.
That day, despite my intimidation, I was inspired by the things I saw. I attended an excellent talk on Haskell during which the presenter admitted he had very little experience with the language. Still, I was intrigued by the syntax and grammar, and I felt an inclination towards programming that I had never felt. I love natural language, grammars, and syntax in general. I have always been fascinated by English and the field of linguistics. I was no less fascinated by Haskell than I am with Basque (an incredibly interesting language isolate.) I saw another talk on the OLPC/XO by an awesome woman, Karlie Robinson, who detailed the effort and reached out to the tech community to engage their skills towards a cause for education. I could relate. I even brought myself to go up to her after the talk and give her my e-mail address, given my experience in education, thinking maybe I could help. For the first time, I thought, maybe there is something worthwhile that I can contribute to the tech community.
I started programming one year ago today, because I was inspired by the technical talks I saw that day, and because I realized I am not any different than any other extraordinary geek.
About six months ago today, I got involved in a movement in Rochester to form a hackerspace. Within three months, we had a space and a place to call our own. I have learned about basic circuitry, soldering, programming, and even some basic networking concepts thanks to Interlock, Rochester’s first hackerspace. I love Interlock, and I can barely imagine my life without a hackerspace anymore. Exchanging ideas, learning new concepts, and thinking beyond my normal realm of every day thought has made me a stronger person. I was not born to be a hacker, a coder, an electrical engineer: but I know I CAN be one. Nothing is stopping me from learning new things. The only barriers we have are the ones we create for ourselves.
I have never been to school for anything technical. I am pretty sure I never will. I will continue attending technical conferences, participating in hackerspace activities, and searching each day for new or refactored technology that makes me think outside of my normal train of thought. I feel challenged, excited, and motivated by learning new things, as most people do (whether they realize it or not.) I embrace this challenge as a way to grow as a person, a developer, and a great mind. I am happy to say my mind is no longer limited by the barriers I perceived one year ago today.
I gave a talk on learning programming today at BarcampRoc 2010. I had a very small audience, but I enjoyed discussing Ruby and entry level programming with them. I am passionate about the best way to teach programming as an art rather than simply a tool. I have learned so much in the past year, and I am only limited by my own interests. I no longer feel limited by what I don’t know. Because I know I can learn. I didn’t know this small, and seemingly obvious bit of knowledge, one year ago today.
Today, I know.