found drama

get oblique

quick thoughts on the GDI TA experience

by Rob Friesel

Girl Develop ItWhile the thoughts are still fresh in my mind, I wanted to quickly jot down a few things about what it was like to be a TA for the Burlington chapter of Girl Develop It (GDI).

Most of what I’m feeling at the end of the day can (in a nutshell) be boiled down to: Wow, that was incredibly rewarding and everyone that codes for a living should do that at least once. And by “that” I mean get in there and help a room full of people really dig into code for the first time. It’s truly amazing what you find out about yourself and about them.

Today I participated as a TA for an intro to JavaScript class run by the Burlington chapter of Girl Develop It. We covered classes #1 and #21 today. It’s really just the foundational building blocks of JavaScript or — as today’s instructor (@jeffrey_pierce) described it — “the three chords that you can use to play every rock song ever written”.

As someone who programs in JavaScript day-in-and-day-out, it was an interesting exercise in tongue biting as we collectively worked through the material. Which of the language quirks do you bring up? Which things are confusing but you should tell a beginner because it will help her achieve a deeper understanding? versus which things do you just not even bother mentioning because it’s confusing and won’t add anything to her “first day” experience with the language? For example:

At what point do you mention that out is going to “accidentally” coerce into the string undefined? Before you dive in? Or after the first time that someone sees it? And how do you explain the type casting to someone who has only been messing around with JS for two hours?2

And/but… that was also where the “rewarding” part of my own experience came in.

It was really cool to see these women3 grasping with the language quirks. (Because let’s make no mistake: for as much as I love coding in JS, it has got a lot of weird quirks.) Everyone had her own analogy to bring to the table to help herself understand what we were talking about, or else she would deal with it in strictly literal terms. I saw every size, shape, and style of lightbulb flicker on in that room today.

But that was also the hardest part about being a TA. It was a great exercise in empathy. We had women who had coded in other programming languages (“…just not JavaScript…”), all the way down to women who had never tried to program anything before in their lives. And moving around the room, keeping eyes and ears open for who needed help, it was interesting to see how each person approached each problem, and how everyone got tripped up on something different, and how even the same question could be asked in completely different ways by two different people. It was humbling to be reminded how important it is to simply stop and listen before saying anything at all.

At the end of our session today though, I asked everyone how they felt4 and whether or not they had fun. Everyone I asked told me that they had did have fun — so I feel like we (the instructor, and the TAs) did something right.

What a great group of students today. I was glad to be a part of the class and wish them all the best of luck as they move forward with their coding projects. (Not that any of them need luck.)

  1. ”Introduction to JavaScript” (foundations and primitives) and “Functions, Arrays, Loops, and Objects”, respectively. []
  2. And don’t get me started on how we never even brought up how they could just do favoriteThings.join(', ')… (Just kidding! I know exactly why we didn’t talk about join()…) []
  3. And it was almost uniformly women. We had one young man in today’s class, but everyone else was a woman. []
  4. Most of them answered: “Tired!” []

About Rob Friesel

Software engineer by day, science fiction writer by night. Author of The PhantomJS Cookbook and a short story in Please Do Not Remove. View all posts by Rob Friesel →

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