"I learned to program in an Intro to CS class in high school. Thanks Mrs. Elia!"

Screen-shot-2011-05-01-at-5.21.14-PM.png

By Jean Hsu (Android Developer, Pulse) I recently came across I Learned to Program..., a website for which anyone can submit a sentence-long story on how they learned to program. I expected to see a plethora of stories about learning to program at age six, but after refreshing the page 20 or so times, I was surprisingly pleased to see a wide range of stories. Some were predictably about learning to program on a TI-86, or hacking around on the family computer at a young age. Others learned to program in a high school class, or in college. Interestingly, most male contributors' stories seemed to fall into several buckets: getting an early start, programming basic games, programming on a graphing calculator, or having a computer as a kid. Most female contributors' experiences were very different, and seemed to be mostly about learning to program in a high school or college class or getting introduced to programming through another interest (design, biology, music, etc).

I'm currently reading Unlocking the Clubhouse, which discusses these exact trends. It's inspiring to see these stories of women who, like me, hadn't been programming their whole lives and ended up in the industry. At the same time, I can't help but think of the many women who fell through the cracks (what the book refers to as the "leaky pipeline") because they felt like they didn't have enough experience, and couldn't catch up with their mostly male peers (of course, this probably applies to many men without previous programming experience as well).

I submitted my story, which was, "I learned to program in an Intro to CS class in high school. Thanks Mrs. Elia!" It's not super exciting -- I didn't spend my childhood hacking away on our family computer, and I didn't fall in love with programming at an early age. I didn't even have any exposure to programming until high school, and I consider myself lucky to have had the opportunities that I did have. But had I not taken programming courses in high school, I'm almost certain I wouldn't have majored in it in college.

My story is not as exciting as many others, but I felt it was important to submit it. I hope that as we go on, more women will be exposed to programming and computer science at an earlier age and we'll see a shift in "learning to program" stories. Meanwhile, I hope that others will also post their "learning to program" stories, especially those who might think their story is too unspectacular to post, so that we can achieve a realistic portrayal of the varied ways in which people are being introduced to programming.

How did you learn to program? Share your development experience at www.ilearnedtoprogram.com.

This post was originally published on www.jeanhsu.com.

About the guest blogger: Jean Hsu currently co-leads Android development for Pulse News, a mobile news reading app. Before she entered the startup world, she worked at Google as a software engineer for two years. Jean holds a Bachelor's of Engineering in Computer Science from Princeton University. She blogs about her startup adventures and experiences as a software engineer at www.jeanhsu.com. Follow her on Twitter at @jyhsu.