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One year ago today – Learning to Embrace the Tech Community

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.

At my first barcamp, also my first technical conference/unconference experience ever, I was intimidated. My heart raced when I had to introduce myself. I claimed I was going to help Alan do a talk on his server-side Javascript framework that I had no clue about, but I really did nothing. I didn’t give a talk. I felt guilty, given the nature of a barcamp and the expectation that all attendees speak on something, but I also felt I had nothing to contribute.

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.

5 Responses to “One year ago today – Learning to Embrace the Tech Community”

  1. Sara says:

    This made me smile :)
    Programming is so diverse that most anyone can find a language they’re interested in.

  2. Awesome post. I wish I had gone to your talk now that I know more about the story behind it.

    How did you like my jQuery UI talk?


  3. LIz says:

    Awesome post! Come by Noisebridge and say hi if you’re ever in SF!

  4. [...] One Year Ago Today — Learning to Embrace the Tech Community via Girl with a Computer. I really needed to read this yesterday. I’ve had a hard week of learning and frustration. I’ve been blogging a long time and I understand the mechanics of it, but when I try to reach beyond it, sometimes the learning is tough. I know I can do it because 15 years I ago it was my job to do it. And if you’re just starting, you can do it too. Go read this article and let Ashley remind you that you can do this. [...]

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