Thursday, January 27, 2011

If only there was a little girls hack night...

My not-yet-6-year-old daughter isn't very curious about what I'm doing or where I'm going when I'm not with her. So it was unusual for her to show interest in my going to All Girls Hack Night. As I said before, All Girls Hack Night is a monthly meeting of female developers, where they get together to work on their code projects and talk, with a brief presentation on a programming topic thrown in. I told Erika I was going to a meeting with women programmers. I didn't expect her to make anything of that bit of information, let alone to take interest in it. But she did. "So you are a programmer?" she exclaimed. "Yes," I said. "I didn't know it! How do you act like a programmer?" she asked. I thought this was probably her way of asking "what do programmers do?" I said, "you write code on a computer", feeling uncertain, as usual, how much background information to supply. How do you describe succintly, without taxing a 5-year-old's attention span, what is code and how does one write it? She didn't ask me to explain, but had other questions. "Who are those ladies?" I said I could name some names, but she doesn't know them. Of course, that was even less helpful. Then she told me several times that she wanted to come along. I hated to tell her that this is for grown-ups only. I feel like I should do something about this interest of hers. I know there are some programming environments and languages for children, but they are aimed for older children, at least nine years of age. (And probably for a good reason -- most programming concepts are too abstract for a 6-year-old to understand.)

The previous All Girls' Hack Night in December was sparsely attended (yes, holidays), but this one picked up again, with one woman doing a short presentation on CodeIgniter, a PHP application framework. Then a representative of our sponsor, TabbedOut (that provided the meeting space) talking about her company and mobile software development it does. The rest of the time we were supposed to be working on our projects, but as in all coworking situations, we mostly chatted.

The talk of web development (in which many of these women specialize) inevitably brings up the topic of cross-browser compatibility, or lack thereof. Many web developers would like nothing better than for people to stop using IE 6, so that they would never have to code special hacks just to get a page to display in IE 6. But sometimes even convincing your own family to drop it can be very hard, especially if a family member is older, not too tech-savvy, and stubborn. One woman weaned her mother from IE 6.0 by installing Firefox and changing its icon to IE. Her mother, who was't very observant, noticed it only half a year later. She got angry, but the daughter asked, when was the last time you got a virus? True, mother admitted, she hasn't got a virus in a long time (that coincided with the time she had been using Firefox), but that's only because she was "being safe on the internet". The daughter didn't buy it, pointing out that she used to have to wipe out the hard drive on mom's computer every 3 months to get rid of malware. But you can't very well explain this to a person who, seeing a printer that advertised itself as wireless, demanded to know why the daughter plugged it into the wall. After all, it's wireless!

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