Woman typing

Why learning to code was so inspiring

You might not think that learning to code may be much of an achievement, but I think differently. I joined a Code First: Girls front end web design course for my professional development, but I ended up learning so much more than that.

If you’re female, you may well be used to assuming you can’t do new things because they’re in some way too hard for your emotional feminine brain.

More than cartoons

As a child, I was interested in science, maths and engineering, but slowly I started to believe that I wasn’t actually cut out for these subjects.

I can’t link the change to a particular moment, but I do have one enduring memory – of wanting to be a ‘scientist’, just like the characters in the space anime that I liked to watch (read: very smart person in a lab coat).

In Japanese anime, there is often a fantasy, sci-fi theme involving scientists, maybe on a spacecraft or perhaps just in a laboratory, and I thought that was so cool.

But, I distinctly remember having the thought occur to me: that is never going to happen. (Probably, anime scientist was never going to be a viable career path in three dimensions). I was around 11 or 12.

Left and right brain

This led me to start focusing more of my energy on the humanities, particularly in writing and art, whereas before I was probably about equal between right and left brain subjects.

I eventually lost any belief that I would be capable of excelling at ‘technical’ subjects.

The humanities may be easier for people like me who prefer to operate intuitively, loving the grey areas between things rather than learning formulas and rules. I am naturally good at interpreting and associating, so writing is probably the best use of my abilities.

But some curiosity still lingered, and it just so happens that the digital revolution means everyone should be learning to code.

As a result, there are loads of initiatives to encourage women (an underrepresented group in tech) to learn coding, many of them FREE.

My school years

FUN FACT: I borrowed a library book when I was a teenager that taught you how to code, but never really managed to figure it out properly.

My twin sister, on the other hand, read the book after I left it lying around the house and proved very talented at coding. She used to begrudgingly style my Myspace page for me.

I also did Design Technology in Year Nine, and we made little mazes with ball-bearings. I wanted to pick DT as a GCSE subject, but was put off after a friend pointed out I would be the only girl! (Never sure why this would have been such a bad thing, but I guess boys are just yuck at that age).

Despite my interest in STEM gradually eroding, I got an A* at Maths GSCE, A in Statistics, A* in Biology, A in Chemistry and B in Physics.

This isn’t just a roster of my achievements, but genuinely just further evidence of the fact that I was never lacking in technical ability: just faith in myself.

Who needs feminism?

Some people don’t like ‘feminism’ but there is still a pervasive culture of degradation to women in our society. Since equal rights were won, sexism has now become more subtle – but it is nevertheless still there.

In mass media, women are applauded for their bodies and their physical appearance. Actresses are almost universally beautiful, and we have stereotypes of women needing men to fix things for them. We are pressured to be so thin that we actually endanger our health.

It’s vicious, and it’s hostile, and it’s often women themselves that keep it going.

No one is attacking me in the street but the cultural messages are everywhere. It’s in the magazines aimed at me, in films and TV shows. A picture is worth a thousand words.

How to move forwards

What learning to code has done for me is show me that there is nothing different about my brain, and there is no mechanism missing that I need to understand the ‘hard sciences’ like computer science. I can develop a skill in a subject where there is a right and wrong way to do it, and if there is a missing bracket, the whole thing probably won’t work.

I can be exceedingly proud of a working website that I made myself, and that gives you all the confidence in the world.

Whether or not you want to be a professional developer, everyone needs to learn digital skills – just like they need to read and write. Don’t get left behind.

Code First: Girls creates a safe environment where women can learn together without worrying about looking stupid. There were many stressful moments in class, as many people battled against their ingrained beliefs that they were somehow doing something beyond their abilities.

It all comes down to belief, in the end. The opportunities may be there, but if you don’t believe in something it may as well not exist. It’s just like the anime scientists that I loved: they weren’t actually ‘real’, but something I believed in, that I let die.

Well, it’s time to change things and shout about some amazing female role models in tech. Watch this space for future posts!

If you liked this blog post and fancy something similar written for your blog or website, don’t hesitate to get in touch with me to see how we could work together. 

Image: William Iven, Unsplash

About the author

Catherine Heath

I’m a B2B freelance tech blogger and content writer. I have a thing for psychology, diversity, tech and startups. Learning to code.

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