Coding always seemed like a foreign concept that can only be understood by computer science experts. For someone who is passionate about journalism, learning how to code never really seemed like a viable option to me. That is, until I realized that coding is the future, prompting me to apply to the Girls Who Code (GWC) summer immersion program at Florida International University (FIU).
Instead of doing what my classmates and teachers expected me to do, which was entering a journalism summer program, I did the unimaginable: I, a writer, sat in a computer science program and enjoyed it.
My initial thought when I entered the GWC classroom at the FIU campus was, “What did I just get myself into?” But as the day progressed and I got to meet and talk with my peers, I knew immediately the answer to my question. I got myself into 7 weeks worth of learning and fun.
The first thing I noticed was the open-mindedness and welcoming aura of the instructor and her teaching assistants. I was there for the coding and didn’t give much thought to the “girls” aspect of the program when I applied. It didn’t, however, take long for me to feel the girl power.
We immediately jumped into bonding exercises that resulted in laughs and a deeper sense of friendship amongst all of us. We all agreed that on Wednesdays, we wear pink, and on Fridays, we dress according to different themes. The first week, we wore Disney costumes.
However, all the fun didn’t change the fact that coding is much more difficult than I thought. At first, I was confident that it would be like any other class I’ve taken – quick and easy – but learning to code is far from that. It is a long, mentally strenuous process that challenges your analytical skills at every corner.
We started with a programming language called Scratch, a very visual and easy to learn drag-and-drop program, before moving onto Python, a more challenging program that requires manually typing out code. It amounted to two weeks’ worth of cracking hardcore code.
When learning to code you’ll often find yourself asking questions like: How can I code this in a different way? Why isn’t my code working? How can I fix it? And most of the time, you’re the one who has to find the answers.
Thankfully, the GWC program isn’t just about coding all day. We had guest speakers and field trips that got our minds off of the computer screens and into the future.
Our first field trip was to the Discovery Lab right on the FIU campus, where we got to meet Hutch the TeleBot, an interactive robot designed to help disabled officers and veterans return to the field. In addition, we got to meet Brazilian exchange students and learn about the projects they were working on in the lab, exposing us to a future in the field of science.
So far, we’ve had three guest speakers: Kip Irvine, Christy Charters, and Pia Celestino. Irvine, a senior instructor at the School of Computing and Information Sciences at FIU, showed us the importance of efficient algorithms using an exercise involving a deck of cards. Charters, also an instructor at FIU, showed us how to use Alice, software developed by Carnegie Mellon students to make learning programming easier and more fun. Lastly, Celestino, co-founder of Crea7ive, a digital marketing agency located in Brickell, taught us how to obtain happiness by finding a healthy balance between our work lives and our personal lives.
Overall, I learned through these speakers that computer science is a rather powerful field that can branch into many others. Whether it’s in environmental science, politics or business, computer science can be utilized to accomplish many convenient and useful projects.
Although this revelation came as a surprise to me, I also found it very comforting. I began to think: How can I bridge the field of journalism to computer science? Maybe somebody, somewhere already came up with the answer to that, but now that I’m equipped with new programming skills, I’m determined to find out.
Photos and Story By Edysmar Diaz-Cruz