I decided in high school that I wanted to help people through science and technology somehow . I came across programming in college and saw all the amazing things people created . After attending a hackathon as an observer to see how people solved educational and world issues over a period of two days , I was convinced that this was where I wanted to be. I wanted to learn to code.
On my coding journey, I learned about some great non-profit organizations such as BlackGirlsCode and ScriptEd. They introduce children as young as seven years old to programming and the world of STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math). I thought these were amazing initiatives and wished they were around when I was in high school. If I ever ever got the chance, I wanted to help. That chance came about a month ago.
CoderDojo NYC, another organization in a long line of great non-profits, was having a workshop on teaching children the basics of Scratch, HTML/CSS, and littleBits technology and guiding them through a project. The organization relies on volunteers, and I wanted to register. But I hesitated. I had only been coding on and off for about a year, bouncing between tutorials. I knew there would be professional software developers who have been doing this much longer than me. That’s when my Imposter Syndrome really kicked in, telling me I couldn’t and I shouldn't register . But I clicked on the register button anyway. I really wanted to do this. When I later tweeted this as a shoutout on the weekly CodeNewbie Twitter chat, it felt official. No feeling was greater than reading some of the most supportive tweets I’ve ever seen telling me that I could do this. That there was nothing to worry about. The CodeNewbie family is just so awesome.
The fated day arrives
There I was in Squarespace, the area where the Coderdojo workshop was taking place. I proudly put on my mentor name tag and started chatting up the volunteers. I was pleasantly surprised that they were first-time volunteers as well. Even more so, one of the developers started off in photography and finance and after of year of learning to code landed himself a developer position. He gave me hope. As soon as the mentors received sheets on common html/css tags, I began to read and reread them voraciously to make sure I had it down.Then the big moment finally came. The children and their parents swarmed in and sat down .
A little boy no older than eight sat himself down next to the empty chair beside me. In that one moment, I had officially become a mentor. I swallowed my nervousness and began talking to him. His name was Adithya and this was his second time attending a CoderDojo workshop. He proudly proclaimed he wanted something different and a bit more challenging than Scratch programming. I couldn’t help but to smile at his confidence and genuine desire to learn more. My fear took an immediate backseat. I realized then that this day really wasn’t about me; it was about feeding his curiosity and showing him the wonders of programming.
Our task was a simple one. The HTML/CSS mentors’ goal was to guide a child through creating a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure game while teaching them the basics. As it was October, the game’s theme was haunted house. We spent a good amount of time looking for cool, spooky doors and hallways. I started explaining how we set up basic web pages and how we can make them look cooler with pictures. I showed him the image tag, and watched his eyes light up. He added a few more while I explained how the paragraph and link tags worked. The real fun started when we transferred the code he made to neocities.org. It was a child friendly website that allows you to create and host your own website. It also made it easier to switch from one page to another to make a more authentics adventure game.
Bugs, bugs, and more bugs. We entered the world of fun spelling errors and typos after we made the switch. Instead of being frustrated, Adithya and I saw this as a challenge. He asked many questions including how to make the text fancier, how to make a picture clickable, and so on. I asked him questions about the decisions we made, where we might’ve gone wrong, seeing if we could spot our errors. We were on a cycle of breaking, fixing, trying things out and learning new things together. I showed him a webpage I made myself to show him all he needs is a bit of practice. Somehow, Adithya stumbled upon Google Dev Tools. He asked if he could use it to learn more about programming, “Yes!” I exclaimed. I can’t lie, I was both excited and jealous. I was happy that he was discovering things and wanting more and more to become a programmer, but couldn’t help but feel frustrated that I hadn’t discovered this world until recently . Why couldn’t I have found the command line when I was 9?
Before we knew it our time together was up. I grabbed the remaining HTML/CSS guides I could and handed to him. I told him to keep going and to keep learning. He wanted to get home fast so he could keep practicing. We a firstbump later,we were on our way home.
What I’ve learned
It wasn’t until the next CodeNewbie twitter chat that a member pointed out I may have changed a child’s life. Upon further thought, I might have possibly done so. I didn’t need to be a genius, highly talented or a professional programmer to accomplish our game that Saturday. I just had to be as eager to teach and he was to learn. I learned what I actually knew and what I’d forgotten myself. I learned that I wanted to keep going on this programming journey and all I really needed to do is have the courage to make the first step and learn.
A great piece of advice I was given recently was “just say yes to opportunities, especially if they scare you.” I’m glad I’m said yes. Saying yes led me to volunteering despite my doubts. Saying yes led me to push projects on github even when I thought I may break something. Saying yes led me to write this article despite not being a confident writer. Every yes is slowly making me a better developer.