Mon, Aug 17, 2020
Read in 4 minutes
Lessons from my experience as a coding camp instructor
I recently had the opportunity to teach a week-long iOS development camp with Black Girls Code. The camp had about a dozen students aged 13-17, and the curriculum used Swift Playgrounds and XCode to teach the basics of Swift development and iOS app development. My dear friend Hilliary from Hill Street Strategies connected me with Black Girls Code, and I immediately resonated with their mission to “introduce programming and technology to a new generation of coders.” Through this experience, I learned several new things that I can't wait to share.
My students continually amazed me with their ability to overcome obstacles and continue to learn. We're all still adjusting to a remote-first world of Zoom calls and screen shares, and the girls were very gracious and positive while we worked out some technical issues.
One student had to update her operating system to download the newest XCode, and her entire screen turned green. However, instead of packing it in and giving up, she was able to fix it and get her computer back, all the while smiling and laughing about it.
Learning to code is hard, and some of the coding challenges we worked on were pretty tough. Not only did they figure it out, they were excited about it. Now more than ever, I am so excited to see the next generation of software developers learn to code and start building cool stuff.
We broke out into small groups every day to work on coding exercises. Several of the students described this as their favorite part of the day. They loved being hands-on with code and building things, and they loved working together while doing it.
Throughout the week, I saw several friendships blossom, and I watched them build community as they learned and explored new technologies and solved puzzles. They lifted each other up, and they supported each other and rooted for their friends. More than once, I would pop into a breakout room to see one of the students figure out a difficult puzzle or problem, and all of the other students would start clapping and cheering in celebration.
Coding is the easy* part of the job. Empathy and communication are two of the most important skills for success in tech, and these girls had an abundance of both.
* Coding is not easy
Before teaching this camp, I was aware of the importance of representation - how seeing successful people who look like you creates a sense of belonging among under-represented and marginalized people. However, the camp really hammered this home for me.
Every day, the slide deck included a career spotlight of one or more Black women in tech. We watched videos and learned about these women as part of the lesson for that day. We then discussed as a group what we watched or read. The students absolutely loved this part of the class. They lit up with excitement when talking about the women and how inspiring it was to see successful Black women doing big things.
What this taught me was that the technical part of teaching only matters if we build inclusive organizations, welcome people in, and allow them to bring their full selves with them. Otherwise, we're perpetuating the same exclusionary practices that have resulted in tech being overwhelmingly white and overwhelmingly male.
In the course of trying to be a good person, it's easy to get swept up in trying to “change the world” by making big, sweeping improvements. However, that's often not how progress works. Progress often comes from small, incremental changes that build on one another. All in all, I spent about 15-20 hours of my time preparing for and teaching the summer camp. My hope from that experience is that at least one of the girls in the camp discovered a love of coding and a desire to build something cool. If that happened, then it was worth it.
I learned a lot through the process of teaching a summer coding camp. I'll forever be grateful to Black Girls Code for providing me the opportunity to do so, and I look forward to continuing my personal journey of using my experience and privilege to build a more inclusive tech community.