Evangelizing Mainframe
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Getting Into Coding: One Girl’s Perspective

Not so long ago in a subdivision not so far away, there was a girl named Julia Steffy. That’s me, the semi-awkward teenage author of this blog. A little over a year ago, I was awaiting my freshman year of high school and my chance to take Advanced Placement Computer Science. I was excited because I had always been interested in engineering and I wanted to learn how to code. However, I didn’t want to come into the school year having no knowledge about coding.

It can be hard to start something new if you don’t know anything about it, so I signed up for a summer camp at nearby Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida, where I could learn a little about coding. I spent one week that summer learning the basics of coding in Java and wrote my first program, a text-based adventure game. I discovered that I really enjoyed coding, and I anticipated learning more about it as the new school year drew near. School finally started, and as the year passed, my love for coding grew. Solving challenging puzzles is one of my favorite interests, and coding was right up that alley; every question was its own little puzzle that needed solving.

Late that fall, my teacher at Lake Brantley High School, Seth Reichelson, told my class about internship opportunities at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. He said that anyone could apply. I debated whether or not to apply, wondering how I could possibly be chosen, seeing as I would be competing with other, much more experienced students for one of the internship spots.

I decided to apply, thinking, “What the heck, why not?” To my surprise, I was emailed and asked to come for an interview. I ended up getting the internship along with 20 to 25 other students, all of them older than me. I was the only freshman, and I didn’t know anyone. As time passed, I grew more comfortable, both with the other students and working in an environment where projects that affect the world took place. The rest of the school year I worked to strengthen my coding skills and took the Computer Science Advanced Placement exam, which I passed.

Near the end of the school year, my teacher suggested that I should go this year to a Summer Institute at the University of Central Florida for competitive coding. I had never coded competitively, but I decided to give it a shot. After all, I had slowly learned that coding isn’t a purely intellectual thing; you can read a textbook about how to code, but you need to practice and try different techniques to really learn how to code.

When I got to the camp, I was the only girl out of the 16 students who were attending. That didn’t bother me though; I knew that, unfortunately, there aren’t many girls in the field of computer science. I spent the next two weeks learning techniques and tricks I didn’t know existed in Java. I walked away from the experience with a mountain of new knowledge that I was excited to put into use. In fact, I had so much fun at the camp and coding competitively, that I am going to join my schools’ programming team.

Now I am going into my sophomore year of high school. I’m looking forward to taking Experimental Science, another computer science related course. In this class I will be able to work on different projects and improve my coding skills. I will also be doing more competitive coding activities, like competing in Codeforces competitions. This year I will take part in the IBM Master the Mainframe contest. This will give me a chance to apply my new skills. Last year—my first year participating—I only completed Part 1 and I am aiming to complete Part 2 this time around.

I would love to see more girls get into coding, so that the next time I go to a coding related camp, I don’t end up having a whole dorm to myself. Not that I’m complaining about having the extra space. C’mon girls, don’t leave me all alone!

Julia Steffy is a sophomore at Lake Brantley High School in Altamonte Springs, Florida. Along with her interest in technology, she also participates in her school’s award-winning marching and symphonic bands as well as her local tournament softball team.

Posted: 9/1/2015 12:00:30 AM by Julia Steffy

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