Saturday, September 17, 2011

A computer programming class with no programming...

Hi...miss me? Sorry I've been absent. I could blame it on classes sucking away all my time, or a lack of topics but really it's that it is much faster to read someone else's blog than write in my own, and being sick for three weeks didn't really help. My in-laws visit gave me much blogging fodder, and I can't wait to pass along some awesome pictures.  For example--my husband father in law dressed up as monks for Rennfest and a real nun came up to them and wanted to know what order they were in.  Oh my life is far too humorous not to blog.

All of the fun things that I did with my in-laws made me realize how much I wanted to do that stuff...more.  I haven't been to Rennfest in years, hadn't been to the aquarium at all, and even though I live a short ride away from DC, rarely have returned there since I moved.  Even when I lived there I didn't take advantage of the Smithsonian's that were literally on my doorstep, living a scant three blocks from the back of the Air and Space Museum.  I would like to make a more conserted effort to do stuff like this.  If the husband doesn't want to go, as he is generally more comfortable playing with electronics than being a tourist, then so be it. I'll go with friends, or...*gasp* by myself.  Would I enjoy that? My old college roommate recently did a trip across the West Coast, almost entirely by herself.  In this experience she met new people, did new things and gained personal insight. I also got some awesome postcards.  Maybe this is what I need.  I've always been so afraid of doing things by myself, maybe it is time to step out of that comfort zone.  More on this as it develops.  Today I'd like to introduce you to my computer programming class.

My computer programming class doesn't actually program.  This was one of the first things our professor told us.  "This is a logic class, not a programming class!" he declared.
"Umm...I'm thinking to myself...what have I gotten myself into?"

See, I was (ha and still am) only taking this class to placate my computer god of a husband. He can wave his arms and make magic happen, while I wave my arms and knock something down where it will shatter to a million pieces.  I'm a klutz and he is an engineer.  We previously began to take a free online MIT course where they put up the lectures, assignments, syllabus and notes and you do the rest on your own.  We enjoyed it and I whet my appetite learning a little python.  I've forgotten any of the coding syntax, but the context in which to understand other programming sort of lingers.  Basically that translates to, I understood the first chapter of our book. Now I'm lost and I'm pretty sure I would have given up by now, if it weren't for my husband deciding that he was going to teach me everything on his own, and even start a class for our friends to learn computer programming.  So far, I'm batting a perfect score in class because my homework is awesome and our quiz was really really easy.

So, I'm sitting in class the other night, our class being only one night a week, and I look around.  Well, I sort of think in my head to the people in the back of the room since I want to at least pretend to be paying attention the lecture.  The breakdown of my class is this.  My class has about 15 people in it, I am one of two women, the other who is a black woman.  The rest of the class consists of 3 black men and the rest are white and male.  I sit wondering if my class is representative of the market today--large white, and male.  My husband answers in the affirmative.  The network security class in the computer lab next to us doesn't fare much differently.  There are three women in that class and while there seem to be more black men than in my class, it is still largely white and male (and taught by a variety of white males). I think that this realization (I went to an all women's college) makes me want to work even harder to succeed, knowing that I'm in the minority.  It also makes me ponder why there are so few women in this field, and what we can do about it.

This class is pretty boring.  I'm not sure how I can be bored and confused at the same time, but I am.  The class next door looks much more interesting, from what I can see.  There are windows separating our classes, so I surreptitiously sneak glances pretty frequently.   They are playing with programs called "Hacker Attack" and discussing code injection and data mining. Wow, my husband would really LOVE this class.  I'm blocking out "learning" about class definitions and instance methods, longingly looking at the much more interesting powerpoint next door. I'm not really sure how we are supposed to be learning this stuff, because to me it's like learning irregular Spanish verbs (which I never managed to get).  One day it will, hopefully click.  For now, it's just a million technical definitions with no real prior context for me to visualize it in.  I feel like we are being asked to memorize the textbook to later regurgitate when we are finally able to access the holy grail of Java.

My class has some interesting folks in it, from ones who have just graduated from high school to ones who are older than my parents.  Mostly all are nice, but some are just a little different.

I guess I should start with the professor.  He isn't really a teacher. He is a guy that actually attended this school back in his day, that sort of gets this because he has been working in the field for twenty years, but his teaching skills and classroom management are completely lacking. I think he is actually trying more to stay on topic, but if someone's cell phone rings and beeps repeatedly next class, I will have to step up and say something.  It's sad that I have better classroom management skills but teaching sixth graders did pose more distractions than college students.

There is the kid who is obviously on the autism spectrum (I'm guessing that he has Aspergers Syndrome from the way he talks, lack of eye contact and the way he holds is body) who, for the first two classes couldn't stop talking about unrelated topics.  Even when he stopped talking, he would mutter under his breathe most of the time.  He wants to learn video game design and wants to learn it NOW.   He is a nice kid but this behavior was really getting on my, and the rest of the classes nerves.  Before the last class I had an opportunity to chat with him and asked him if he had unrelated questions, to write them down and ask after class.  He said "sure," and mentioned a history class he was taking where the teacher constantly went off on tangents. I told him this was exactly my problem, that I could understand what was going on when they happened and it seemed to click for him.  This past class he asked copious amounts of questions but all related to the class. It was a glorious moment for the entire class.  Even my classmates had to agree that this week his questions were actually helpful as he helped us draw connections between the different areas that were being taught.  Sometimes asking politely gets you what you want.

There is only one other woman in my class. She seems nice, and wants to get into the field of computer programming, but I worry that she isn't really getting the material either. The way that she asks to look at my work, and seems to want to just copy it reminds me a little too much of high school and being a little less than honest on our math homework.  She plays on facebook during the lectures, although she takes pretty good notes. I question her maturity level especially after I caught her going to a magic 8 ball site last week and typing in "Am I pregnant?"  My opinion of her was solidified, but that doesn't change that she is a friendly face in a class.  By the way, the ball's answer was "yes."

There are people in my class who are already working in the computer programming field, and have been for years, merely needing this insanely easy (to them!) introductory course to get the credits that they need.   The majority of us are just slogging through the material waiting for that magic moment when it all clicks into place.    

I am enjoying the interactions with other students and actually being back in the classroom. I struggle daily with my online classes, if for no other reason than not having a professor to actually explain what they want, and how they want it. Email doesn't convey messages the same that speaking does. I also have difficulty reading people's discussions questions which we have to respond to, as they aren't always very well written.

Going back to school is an adventure and I hope to share more of it with you. Next time--lots of Santa pictures.


  1. the landscape of the IT field is changing, albeit slowly. It is still a largely white male dominated field. I know probably 90% of the black IT staff in my company, and that's because there really aren't very many of us. Additionally there's not many asians, indians, hispanics... etc etc. women are increasing in general but the majority are still white.
    In part that is hiring practices, as well as a disparity in educational experience. This is not a disparity in knowledge or ability, but rather differences in degree earned. Worries of people with accents and not understanding instructions, etc plays into things too.

    it's a changing landscape tho, and improving over time. :)
    sounds like your class is interesting! welcome to the wonderful word of IT! :)

  2. I will go to DC with you! I love Georgetown and the Smithsonian's! I also want to catch a National Symphony concert at the Kennedy Center sometime.

  3. Your ADD is kicking in. Those 70's open classroom designs that let you see what other classes are doing was such a horrible educational experiment!

    I went to high school with many women who are now working in the IT field, but they got in when it was just starting out so that may be the difference?

    I too would love to go to DC. I hate that now that I moved out of Mo Co, I don't go anymore. I grew up in the museums and when Colin was little we spent time in them a few times a month. I hate to admit, i have not been to one in several years and that was because out of town company was here to and wanted to go to one of the art museums.


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