What Got Me Started

Amid all the debate on how to get more women and students into technology, I took a second to reflect on what got me started. Perhaps there are some notes that can be taken from my story and other’s stories on how they got started into development that can lead to clues on how to get others involved?

There’s plenty of reasons to get into software development – it’s one of the higher paying careers you can go into, it has some of the most casual work environments, and there’s always an open position to be found if you’re adequately qualified. All the practical reasons are there, but I’m guessing if you ask the average software developer why they became a coder they’ll give you a different reason.

Video Games FTW

For me, and I think a lot of developers, the love of computers and programming started through video games. I got my first console when I was 5 (an Atari 2600) and immediately fell in love. Even at that point I didn’t make the correlation to software development, but I think just being around technology and seeing how it could be used played a huge role.

When I was finally introduced to software development in grade 5 the connection was made. If it wasn’t for one of my teachers pushing me to attend this extra class that a high school student was teaching on QBASIC I may never have got into programming. After that fateful afternoon I was writing basic programs in a binder, making an overly complicated password guessing game and playing around with gorillas.bas. Soon after I began checking out programming books from our school’s library on text adventures and Java 1.3 and the rest is history.

So my two entry points into development were video games and school, and I imagine if you ask other developers you’ll get a similar answer. Are there any conclusions we can draw from this?

But Girls Don’t Play Games

Well, for one, video games have always been criticized for being male-oriented. While there has been an increase in casual gaming thanks to Facebook and mobile devices (and also Nintendo), that’s only happened recently. Perhaps generations before the ‘Facebook generation’ just didn’t see the appeal of video games and therefore couldn’t catch the programming bug that way. With the video game generation growing up and having kids combined with the new focus on the casual gamer, it’ll be interesting to see the shift in both numbers and ratios once the current generation gets up to career age.

A Mouse for Every Student

The school angle seems to be an interesting one as well – more and more schools are becoming tech savvy despite their limited resources. With the introduction of low cost devices like the iPad it’s easier for schools to start introducing those technical components into their classrooms. Although I don’t expect your average teacher to start coding on an iPad, it’s not impossible and simply having it available may raise the interest of a student who wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity.

High schools seem to have a renewed interest in software development as well. I was lucky enough to attend a school with a decent Com Sci teacher who taught Turbo Pascal and Java (this was the late 90’s after all), but even schools without properly trained teachers are still investing in coding. Recently a few of our employees from iQmetrix Winnipeg went to a local school to teach some introductory programming to a class full of girls with a recurring attendance of almost 30 students.

Of course the way I got into software development isn’t the only way, but I do feel that we should continue investing in the next generation of coders to ensure they have a well-supported start into the industry. Whether this is done through casual means like video games, or directly through education, it’s a worthwhile endeavour. As I’m sure we’ve all seen in our day-to-day jobs, a little bit of time investment now into training and development can have huge pay-offs in the future.

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