Coding, Education

Intro to Python: Learning with GirlDevelopIt

I just finished up one of my favorite experiences of the summer so far: a 2-course intro in programming with Python!

While I’ve always loved computers and picked up some basic JavaScript and HTML coding on my own, I have always wanted to have a better understanding of how coding works –and learn to use it by myself. Why deal with trying to find someone to build things for me when I could just make my own?
But for all I knew I would love to learn to code, I never really found a good opportunity – until I heard about GirlDevelopIt Ottawa’s Python workshop for girls! Focussing on the lack of women working in tech fields like programming and computer science, GirlDevelopIt is a non-profit organization that organizes coding workshops and classes for women (and I am a sucker for any organization that feminist). The class was fantastic – one of the friendliest, most supportive environments I’ve ever encountered. Gail Carmichael, the instructor, was fantastic – friendly, fun, and great at explaining the concepts so we could understand. Also fantastic were the volunteer Teaching Assistants. They spent the class running all over the place helping us fix our coding errors, showing us new functions that might help us out, and encouraging us to push the limits of our knowledge. Even more fun, though, were the things we learned.

It was a pretty simple workshop – mostly beginner work. Day 1, we worked with Turtle Draw – a Python function that lets you ‘draw’ onscreen by giving directions to a simple line-drawing program called a ‘turtle’. We learned how to draw basic squares and lines, then played around making whatever we could. My first-ever adventure in programming looked like this:

hi

Not quite ‘Hello World’, but it’s a start.

Day 2 was even more exciting: we learned to code text-based adventure games! On a technical level the coding isn’t particularly difficult – what’s really difficult is coding in each individual story track for every action you can think of a player taking. While it’ll be a while before I have anything in any shape to share, I definitely want to take a shot at making my own…

A few of my main lessons learned about coding:
• Your computer cares about punctuation. A LOT. Seriously, miss a bracket or a colon and you’ll break the whole program.
• In Python, indenting your code matters a lot more than you think it does.
• Your computer does not have intuition. If you don’t tell it exactly what to do, it’s not going to guess for you.
• If you forget to put a ‘break’ after a loop of code, whatever it is you told it to do will repeat ad infinitum. One of my funnier moments: the single line of text that just kept reappearing, over and over and over, endlessly, because I forgot to put a break after my if/else loop.
• If you really want to, you can totally use Turtle Draw to draw boobs. Don’t judge me.

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