It’s More Than Math

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In learning the vocabulary of computer science, I’m breaking through a language barrier with my computer.

by Fiona McCrae

Hi, my name is Fiona. By a coincidence of acquaintances, I got involved with Codecraft Lab as a volunteer last summer at the age of 14 before my sophomore year of high school. I thought volunteering at the coding camp might be a fun time as a couple of my friends were volunteering as well – even though I knew very little about coding at the time.  Actually, just looking at a screen of code or script was extremely confusing and even a little intimidating for me before that summer. I really didn’t know how I was going to be able to help other kids learn how to code when I was only just a beginner myself, but I decided to give it a try. Lucky for me!

The first week I volunteered at Codecraft Lab kids were learning some basics in Scratch; a simplified online platform on which even I could easily begin picking up the basics of coding, and I did. My second week was a little more daunting, as it involved learning how to code in Python, and helping other people learn while I was still a beginner myself. Problem-solving 101! I started to get the hang of it and I realized code made a lot of sense to me. I was actually having fun simply manipulating variables and creating output. I am a math person, and formulas and symbols make sense in my head, but learning how to code also felt very linguistic. In learning to code I was doing way more than just math, I was learning vocabulary and breaking a language barrier with my computer.

Another unique and valuable experience at Codecraft Lab was getting to see and hear presentations from some awesome 2015-06-29 14.09.00professionals who used programming to solve various problems or work on big systems with other people. Hearing their personal stories and learning about the endless career possibilities the computer world has to offer people who study STEM and CS was incredibly inspiring. Honestly, I was just left wishing that I had started to learn to code sooner.

My Codecraft experience led me to take an interest in the world of computer science, and since then I’ve been learning to code in both Python and Java. I took a leap of faith and signed up for AP Computer Science for the next school year. Thank goodness I learned the basics of coding over the summer, because AP Computer Science would have been a lot harder if I had not. While the other kids in my class were generally uninterested and confused the whole year, I was quick to pick up and implement Java well enough to get a 4 on my AP exam! Coming into the class I already understood the power of computing, some technical vocabulary, and how coding could help me in college or in basically every career path I might choose in the future.

I wish more kids were interested in computer science at my school. My school now offers AP Computer Science AB (which I took) and AP Computer Science Principles (new this year).  It would be awesome if the classes offered at my high school were more well known and encouraged for different types of students.  Unfortunately, I feel as though a lot of the kids in my school class didn’t take away much from the course, and the ones that did had some sort of previous experience.

Coding opens up so many opportunities, and I feel it is a necessary 21st-century skill. A lot of friends to whom I have mentioned my experiences with want to learn to code, but don’t know where to start. I’ve now spent two summers volunteering with Codecraft Lab, and my time there has influenced the way I am thinking about my education and future career opportunities for the better.  Coding is not just for hackers in basements or stereotypical geeks. I believe anyone can learn to code, even teens like me, and I am just getting started!