Easy as Pie? Teaching Code Literacy (Giving Tech Talks)

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By Sarah Allen (Founder, Blazing Cloud) I’ve been doing technical talks for over 20 years, starting with guest lectures as a TA in college.

One of the main reasons I started giving tech talks professionally was because I didn’t see women doing it and felt that it was important for there to be a diversity of voices.

I spoke often to very small groups and women’s groups before I started speaking at conferences, and have found that speaking experience has elevated my status as an expert and advanced my career.

Also, it’s a great way to connect with people who are interested in what I am interested in. I highly recommend it.

Develop Public Speaking as a Skill Over Time, With Real Experience

Preparation is important, but it can only take you so far. There is something special that happens when you connect with a live audience. I still get stage fright and for days (or weeks) before I give a talk I question my own sanity for signing up. However, I keep doing it because it makes a difference to the people I speak to. I enjoy it most afterwards when I get to talk to people who have questions that make me think in a new way about the topic or want to share a story related to my talk.

If you are working in tech (and most fields), the nature of your work leads you to know something, use some tools, or create some process which a lot of other people don't know about and would like to. I think everyone should feel like it is part of their job to give back to their community by speaking and writing.

My Latest Tech Talk

Here is my latest talk from Strange Loop called Easy as Pie? Teaching Code Literacy.

This talk is unlike most of my tech talks, since it is not about my work that I get paid to do, but about work that I do in my spare time and about something I feel strongly about. I was invited to give this talk, but I still wondered whether many of the people at this most male, highly technical conference would care. As it turns out, they did. It was a popular talk, and two people said it was their favorite talk at the conference. It's about why and how to teach kids to write code. It's about a skill I call "code literacy." Programming is a Life Skill

Kids needs to learn how to code for the same reasons that they need to learn physics, chemistry, and foreign language. They need to understand how their world works. We need to stretch their brains when they are young. But kids don’t care about all that. Kids want immediate gratification. Kids want to play and have fun.

How Do We Craft a Language to Meet These Goals? Should We?

In this presentation, I share my perspective on teaching kids to write code and how I made a little language called “Pie” for web and mobile game development. In the middle of the talk I get technical and teach a bit about Ruby and how to create a domain-specific language (DSL) in Ruby. The last half of the video recording captures the Q&A where I discuss other languages and tools for teaching programming, and share effective approaches for teaching different age groups.

Check out my presentation here (recorded and published by InfoQ): Easy as Pie? Teaching Code Literacy.

Editor's note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below. About the guest blogger: Sarah Allen is Founder of Blazing Cloud, a San Francisco consulting firm creating web and mobile applications. Sarah is also Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer of Mightyverse, a mobile startup focused on helping people communicate across languages and cultures, and President of RailsBridge. Sarah worked on After Effects, Shockwave, Flash video, and OpenLaszlo. Follow her on Twitter at @ultrasaurus.