By Sonja Bichsel
Concrete, glass, container and colourful light greet me, as I arrive at the newly opened Kraftwerk for the Coding Evening with We Shape Tech. The turnout is big. 75 participants, a lively mix of women in the majority and equally interested men, all gathered after what must have been a full day of work for most of them.
The room is filled with a keen energy of curiosity, concentration and learning while the atmosphere is engaged, concentrated and focused at the same time. I think back to my first coding seminar at university years ago and wonder if my basic knowledge will hold up or if it has been outrun by the pace of technology.
Infrastructure definitely has made a leap. This evening, tables with power cords are set up, everyone has showed up with their laptop and all it takes to be connected is a wireless connection. Participants are able to download their very first html editor with the help of a weblink and they are set to take their first steps. I giggle thinking back to my first coding seminar in university. I had to pick up an access code at the library first, then had to show up weekly in a sticky and small, but at the time modern room at university and sit down behind a huge desktop with clunky screen and a huge keyboard.
Coding at home was a challenge, my computer wasn’t well enough equipped and I ended up spending extra curricular time at the lab and with my older brother who was a computer science major. The glass, concrete, steel architecture surrounding me and the small and elegant laptops make me realise that I have arrived in the future.
After a warm welcome by the hosts, Janie Fuchs from We Shape Tech and Melanie Kovacs from Master21, the instructor Chanel Greco, beaming with joy and clarity, is taking the floor to lead 75 people through their first steps in coding. Her instructions are straight forward, well thought through and everyone in the room can feel that her passion and interest for coding are real. From the simple to the complex, she explains what an html file is, how it is structured, what it contains, what a header and a body are and into what depths of the internet we have to dive to find more tricky pieces of code.
Checking back in with the crowd and asking questions, produces first shy answers by the participants that grow more confident during the evening. The mood at my table is collaborative. A group of 5 women, among them a mother and her daughter in her early twenties are following first instructions, asking each other questions and getting help from the 14 coaches who buzz around the room to help participants through their first steps: from downloading the html editor to writing and adjusting their first pieces of code.
After the first 10 minutes I feel myself relax. My concerns about my perhaps outdated coding knowledge are vanishing. Like with any other language, the vocabulary might change, words may be used in a different context, there are certainly new trends and styles, but the grammar is still the same. I might not know my coding alphabet by heart, but I can still navigate a piece of code and make sense out of the pieces that were not familiar yet. What I do find surprising however, is that in the end basic coding still isn’t considered common knowledge yet.
Coding according to the organisers is just as important a language now than English. Considering how much time we all spend in front of the screen, being surrounded by technology all day, the statement makes sense. That the education system still hasn’t integrated basic coding into curriculums and that people still need to get out of their way to learn a 21st Century skill and spend money out of their own pocket to update their knowledge seems surprising.
I am starting to sense what immense opportunity there might lie in closing the digital divide by providing people of all ages with the basic knowledge to understand how coding works. I don’t think everyone needs to be able to code their own programs, but having the basics to join conversations and have a sense of what might be possible would be a good foundation for people to collaborate across sectors and cultures.
At the end of the evening, every participant has programmed their very own landing page. Participants had the chance to apply their own styles which provides each page with an individual touch. What is even more important, that each participant leaves with a landing page that doesn’t just look pretty, but now could be used to test demand for a product or service. Coding, as so many things in life, becomes more interesting with an immediate and obvious application at hand.
Why Learn to Code
Stoilka Krasteva is a psychologist. In her day job she is working on user experience research and testing. She participated because she likes doing one different or new thing every day. Learning to code for her was really helpful, especially in understanding what is going on «behind the scenes» of a program.
Nicolas Hebting collaborates with two programmers on his team at 2324.ch and wants to be able to understand what the two are talking about. His organisation is building an online community and the design of the platform is a vital part of their work. He really enjoyed the evening, had fun trying to code and and is leaving with confidence of having reached his goal.
Laura Zumstein works for the Kaufmännischer Verband Zürich. She would like to enable members of the Arbeitnehmerverband to learn basic coding as a 21st century skill and support them to develop an interest and appetite for more. Her main target group for future training are apprentices. Her intention for joining the evening was to check out Melanie’s workshop. She walks away with an experience that she thought that was great.
Anita thought coding to her was a real technical knowledge gap. She is working with programmers at work every day and wanted to have a basic understanding, so she can join and understand conversations about programming. Out of her private interest, she would like to be able to code her own website.