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Why You Really Should Know More About Coding, With Code Like A Girl Founder Ally Watson

Things have changed a bit since MySpace.

Do you ever think — maybe in the quiet moments that come while toggling between Pokemon Go and your Facebook feed, or waiting for a Netflix stream to load — how completely shit it is that so many of us don’t know the basics of computing? I once finished a class at uni which was all about new technologies where the tutor matter-of-factly finished with “hey, does anyone know how phones or the internet actually work?” Not one hand was raised.

As our lives become more and more digitised, it feels pretty silly to keep living with that kind of ignorance. Reports have been saying for years now that technological skills such as coding are going to be more and more essential in the future and the uptake over just the past few years has been crazy. The Coalition government’s focus on ~innovation~ has brought with it coding classes for kids from Year 7-up and the idea has support across the partisan divide. The Australian Labor Party refer to coding as “the global language” and maintain it’s the new “literacy of the 21st century”. These kids are going to be giving you pitying looks about not working your email properly in no time.

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~*~ talk to me after making a 2004-era MySpace page, punks ~*~

To get some basic understanding on the world of code, we had a chat to developer Ally Watson ahead of her appearance at General Assembly’s Code In The Cinema event. The event, which is running this week as part of the Melbourne International Film Festival, will feature a bunch of discussions about the intersection of technology and creativity, some easy tips for beginners, and a musical live-coding performance by artist Andrew Sorenson.

Watson doesn’t pull out big theatrics like that, but she does have some great insight into the practice and the broader industry as founder of the Melbourne initiative Code Like A Girl.

Junkee: I am an absolute novice (which oh boy, maybe doesn’t speak well to my abilities in running this website?). Give me the basics: what are we talking about when we talk about coding, why is it important and why should people get into it?

Ally Watson: Coding is the language of the computer, it’s how we get it to do what we want! Learning to code not only gives you the power to bring your ideas to life using technology but when we live in a world built and connected by technology, being digitally proficient is a key component in job security for the future.

What’s the aim/purpose of Code Like A Girl? What kind of things could someone learn at your events in Melbourne?

Code Like a Girl wants to inspire more women to get into coding and be more involved in the creation and development of tech. You can’t be what you can’t see, so we like to feature talented people, especially female role-models, from a diverse background (novice to experts), to share their experience and celebrate their achievements. Our events are a place to engage with these tech champions. We also develop and host workshops to allow beginners to have a go at learning to code in a relaxed setting.

Obviously much of the focus with the initiative is based on gender too — I like that you describe it as a “community of coding sisters”. Can you explain why you felt this was necessary in the industry?

I think that really reflects what we’re trying to achieve. Up until recently, there hasn’t been too many tech initiatives catering to the challenges female coders face, and the ambitions of women to up-skill in this area. As a developer myself, I think it’s nice to have a support network that you can go to, and our meet-up events have organically become a ‘community of coding sisters’ where we come together to learn from and collaborate with each other. We have a safe space where we can share and help each other.

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Since you’ve been in the tech industry, do you feel there have been any changes in how women are regarded/involved?

Certainly! I think more and more organisations see the importance and benefit of having diverse workforce. There are also more incentives in place to encourage and push the growth in getting more girls and women to be involved in tech industry, not only as users, but also as creators and producers. We’re a long way away from diminishing issues like unconscious gender-bias, but it’s great to see that many are empowered to start the change.

This event at MIFF, Code In The Cinema, unsurprisingly has a big focus on creative industries. How do you see this kind of tech knowledge connecting with art forms like cinema?

Some of the best creations in tech are when you connect different disciplines — be it creative, fashion or even medical. We’ve seen how tech really influences the creation and consumption of movies and cinemas experience. I’m interested to see and explore more about Virtual Reality and how it can really take cinema experience to the next level.

Code In The Cinema will be at Melbourne’s Comedy Theatre from 12pm on Friday August 12. Check out more details here. You can read more about Code Like A Girl here.

Feature image via Code Like A Girl/Facebook.