Anna Becker
Software Engineer

for the love of code

There is this learn to code meme/movement/whatever that’s been going around for a couple of weeks now. Please don’t learn to code vs please learn to code.

“Learning to code simply means having a basic grasp of how computers work instead of blindly following whatever a talking paperclip tells you.”

First of all, this is false. Having a basic grasp of how computers work has little to do with sitting down and learning a programming language. How did I get my mother to be complimented by the IT department for her computer understanding? Anytime she asked me a computer question, I told her to google it. That’s a basic grasp. And all most people need to know.

I had an epic battle with the Diablo III download this weekend and even though I have a rather in depth understanding of C++, I was still a slave to their programming. Oh I could read and understand the error but there was nothing I could do about it. The point is, you could be the most epic programmer ever and still have to blindly follow someone else’s program. There just isn’t enough time available to make every program and game out there.

What really got me thinking is when the topic brought up mandatory comp sci classes in schools. If I had found my love for programming earlier, would I be in a different place now? Maybe. But I regret none of it.

I found my love of photography freshman year of High School which pretty much dictated my life until the age of 21. So I can pretty much guarantee that nothing would have changed there. Well.. at least not until a pivotal point that happened roughly when I was 19. I say roughly only because it’s all kind of mushed together in my memory.

I was a portrait photographer – hadn’t gone to university yet – and my free time was split between my art friends and my nerd friends. As time went on, my art friends got more into experimental art that I found silly and more importantly became annoying. Oddly inflated egos and hypocritical attitudes of demanding acceptance of who they are while making fun of others. So I found myself choosing chess, DnD, irc, linux, gaming, html, and the like more and more often.

I had a lot of fun those few years. It was ~1995 and the net was just gaining momentum. Linux was still pretty new so we spent a lot of time trying to break it. Since there really wasn’t much else to do with it. If there was a way to write html in anything other than notepad, I didn’t know about it.

The pivotal moment happened when my computer science major boyfriend quickly explained QBasic and the program he was working on. My job was to travel to small towns in Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri and do portrait photography in whatever store we had a contract in so I had a lot of time by myself. With my beast of a dell laptop and too much boredom, I sat down and wrote a text based adventure game.

I brought it home for him to test and had hoped I would be met with pride, but instead what I got was a deflated ego masked by anger. I didn’t understand what I had done wrong and we were both too young and inexperienced to communicate it properly. So it was the beginning of the end of that relationship.

Had he seen other females excel in computers earlier, it might have lessened the effect to his ego. I use might very loosely here because this is Nebraska we are talking about and tech was a boys only club. And I might have gotten use to the reaction like I have now.

The experience soured me pretty heavily in the years to come, but it wasn’t the only aspect. The year before art school I worked at best buy, a video store and a computer repair shop all at the same time. At best buy I was delegated to the printer aisle even though I knew more about computers than all of my male coworkers. Anytime I answered the phone, the customer asked to speak to a man. I eventually took control of the software section and ran it artfully, but no matter how much I proved I knew every piece of software, they always wanted a male opinion. I met the same indignation every night at the repair shop.

In my long thought process of what I wanted to do in my life, computers just seemed more trouble than it was worth. Had it been my only passion, things might have been different. Had I had a bit more time to foster my love of programming, I might have fought til the end. Now, 15 years later it’s a bit easier. I may have less fight in me, but there is less fight to be had.

Like I said before, I don’t regret my path. I may be too old for getting into the gaming industry and I’m OK with it. There’s a lot I could have learned but I wouldn’t be the person I am now without the experiences I’ve had. I just really hope I graduate before I get too close to 40.

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