How to teach girls how to code in the real world

Girls should be really good at coding.I’m quite convinced of this, even though I’m not really good at it myself and I just want to share a little something from my experience in the hope that it will help the teaching and learning part. 

I went and did a course with some database stuff about 12 years ago -MS SQLServer and ASP was my starting point-and I really struggled. The database design stuff was fine and I got how that worked. Even some of the forms we made and basic javascript form validation and HTML, that was OK. But all this declaring variables and ‘if, then’ functions business made absolutely no sense to me at all. 

Parking me at a computer with one of those big red phone books with the black and white cover and the red letters was not the way to teach me and it wasn’t until I had a go at building something myself, that I figured out how to connect a database and make a cart that worked and did some basic things.

And before you say that I’m kinetic, or not a classroom learner, that’s not true because I’ve been tested for all that. According to my friend’s PhD research, I’m exactly 50/50 audio/visual which is bang on for most classical classroom and lecture style learning. So the person standing up the front with Powerpoint preso in a lecture or a conference is perfect for me. 

What I needed was real world context. Yes, more audio and visual probably would have helped but I think we have to be careful about thinking that girls need floaty pretty pictures and boys can handle linear, gritty mechanical things. Context is the ‘why’ and this is the main thing I was missing.  I had no context and no idea of what I was trying to make, or even really do.  Context is really important to how I learn. If I get the business case up front, then I can move back and bolt something together (see what I did there). Going the other way and declaring things and passing things around in abstract form was a complete riddle to me. 

It’s the same reason (and a big of odd self diagnosis here) that I was pretty good at algebra and crap at calculus. Algebra is often taught in word problems and solve for x. If three apples and two oranges cost $4 sort of thing- I can picture the apples and the oranges and get why you would want to figure that out. Going straight to 3x and 2y and then getting to the end of the course and saying ‘so you can work out how many apples and oranges you can buy at the supermarket’ doesn’t work so well for me. 

I’ll give you another example. I was watching two young girls -about 8 and 10 at a guess, playing in a hotel reception. They were playing check-ins with one playing the guest and the other one writing down all the details on a real, paper hotel check-in form.  I looked at the form afterwards and was surprised how well she had done at capturing all the correct information. She had put in variables for car parking, the three dogs that were also coming to dinner and their meal requirements (!) and all the customer information like name, address and email. It was clear that the girls had a good understanding of the business case for capturing customer hotel information on a form. 

It wouldn’t be a stretch to then take the paper form and say:

‘how do we make it so when Mrs.Dinglebatt comes next time with her three dogs, she doesn’t have to fill the form in again?’

‘Mrs. Dinglebatt left her mobile phone charger in the room. How do we get her contact information so we can email and tell her we have it?’

’when Mrs. Dinglebatt’s dogs order room service- how do we make sure it gets charged to the bill so she can pay at the end?’

I think the girls would have got it, especially if they could see the process end to end with the reception person calling up information on a computer. Minecraft and other games are pretty great too, but I think we shouldn’t be afraid to use real-world problems and everyday situations to teach girls how to code in context because I think that could really help the little girls playing hotels to make the next AirBNB or Paypal. 

How lack of digital disruption is killing our newsrooms

Here's the leaked New York Times Innovation report which Nieman Lab describes as 'one of the key documents of this media age'. Sadly I've seen too many of these reports and I think it's the obsession with report writing and talking about market disruption that's causing so many media companies to fail and wrecking a lot of people's careers in the process. 

Talking about disruption and doing disruption are two different things. 

Talk about disruption and everyone is a pioneer, a game-changer - we all want the new shiny one. Start to do disruption and, it’s disruptive and annoying.  A lot more like taking toys off people and telling them no, we’re not doing it that way anymore. And then people cry and argue and threaten to leave and question the authority of the toy-taker-offer. Does she know what she’s doing? Why does she get to take the toys away? I will need a report and some KPIs before you get to touch my toys. Even with the assurance that you’ll get new toys and they’ll be better, the intermediate actual disruptive change part creates uncertainty that The Future will actually be better. What if it’s not? Then nostalgia kicks in. It was better before. Remember when there were only 10 of us that worked here and how great that was. When we were younger in the old days and we would skip into work, with a song in our heart and it was all group hugs and laughter. Now the toy-taker-offer has arrived and ruined everything and is the walking personification that 1. it was better before 2. The Future won’t be better.  So the Leader hears the crys of the people and starts to lose his nerve. Maybe he made a wrong choice? (maybe The Future won’t be better?), why is there all this disruption? He retreats to plan B, the safer option, the weaker manager and the crying stops for a few months. Give the toys back to to the kids for now and slow down the change, it was too reckless and fast. And nothing changes. And that's why so many once-powerful media companies are sick and limping and have terrible company culture and weak managers. Because the people brave enough to take the toys away and actually generate real change keep getting shown the door.  That's why media companies are laying off staff and have missed The Future on so many products, because the urgency and decision making wasn't there to carry on with the first seven rounds of Digital First projects. If there's one thing we need at the moment it's strong, determined leaders who will make hard, often unpopular decisions to cut through the crying and get people through disruption. 

Times Ousts Jill Abramson as Executive Editor, Elevating Dean Baquet
What the New York Times Could Have Been

How to stay happy at work building toilet roll forts

When I was 14 I worked at a supermarket packing groceries. 

I was a youth worker on $4.25 an hour (before tax) and made 60 something dollars a week working 4pm until 8pm after school. 

I was rich. 

No I’m serious I thought I was. When you’re a kid living at home with no rent, utilities, car bills or— well any overhead at all- you can actually have quite a good time with 60 bucks and it came in every week. It was pretty great. 

The next peg up the promotional ladder was Checkout Operator but the owner thought I was too dumb and promoted everyone around me and I stayed as a Packer. I know he thought I was too dumb because he said it to my face ‘I think you’ll struggle with the operator training. It’s for the best really.’ So with the door fully closed on my future as a supermarket checkout operator, I was given the most mindless and simple part of the store to take responsibility over- the toilet roll and tissue paper aisle. When the checkouts weren’t busy the idea was the you go and tend to your little plot in the store. I loved it. 

Toilet rolls arrive in the storeroom in massive cardboard boxes. Next time you are at the supermarket ask them if you can go out the back and play in the toilet paper and paper towel deliveries. They won’t let you, but it’s a great time like giant soft Lego. Because I was labelled as a bit thick, it was the best place for me because you can’t break anything and you just build huge forts of paper towels and 36 roll Sorbent toilet paper outers.  Then you make little lists of what’s missing out on the shop floor and load up a stock trolley from your toilet paper fort. 

There are different sizes and colours of tissue boxes, Christmas editions, promotional ticketing and bonus ‘buy 6 get 2 free’ offers. People would ask me for my expert advice on toilet rolls and would tell them what the best deal was that week and show them the new tissue ranges with Penguins on them. Crushed corners on tissue boxes are the worst and you get that when the giant boxes are thrown on to the floor of the storeroom from up in the pallet racking (there’s a pro tip for you next time you buy tissues). I would always retrieve my own tissue outers because there were no crushed corners in my magnificent display.  

Most supermarkets don’t have Packers now and the Checkout Operators have turned into self-serve robot kiosks so I finally get to scan the barcodes myself which was the most coveted part of being an Operator and not a Packer. Sometimes, you’re better off to just roll with the changes on the shop floor, enjoy building paper towel forts and not wait for someone to anoint you as Checkout Operator because there’s probably something better out there for you and you never know-you might still get to have a go with the scanner. 

Easter message: Jesus and a cup of tea

Colin McCahon The Mary's at the Tomb 1950

We always want to know how things are going to work out and think that if we just know what is going to happen, then we can deal with it. If I can be smart enough and have an answer and control things with money and cleverness and manipulation then, I won’t be vulnerable and experience fear and pain. Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane teaches us that this isn’t true. He knows who he is and what is about to happen to him.

Some people think that either a: he didn’t know what was going to happen next or b: he knows he’ll be resurrected so it sort of doesn’t matter. When Jesus went up to the garden to pray he made sure that the disciples were watching him. He wanted them to see him praying and write the words of: “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”Matthew 26:38-40 (in Context) Matthew 26

Knowing how it was going to end didn’t change the fact that he had to go through with the torture of a Roman crucifixion. He was afraid and he didn’t want to do it. 

I’ve spent a lot of time since my last Easter message thinking about and spending time with people who were at the end of their life i.e. old people which isn’t something I would normally do. I’ve learned that the human body decays whether we like it or not. Life brings different seasons. One older lady I met is called Dorothy. She’s in her late eighties and her husband died about 15 years ago. While most people my age fuss and cluck about why I haven't got a husband, Dorothy clapped her hands and assured me that singleness was a wonderful season:

“what most people don’t tell young girls is that for most of their life, they will be single. We get sold this princess idea but it’s not true.  If you start out as a young girl with your family, then you might get a boyfriend or two and then you might get married. Then the pressure is for children and then they grow up and have their own lives and then your husband dies. That’s the normal pattern and in that time, you will spend a lot of time being single. The most important thing for girls is that they learn to like themselves and enjoy spending time without their identity in their husband and children. Then, the start and end seasons of their life will be a lot happier. I’m nearly ninety and all I need now is Jesus and a cup of tea. I’m not sure if there is tea in heaven but I’ve asked Him for it”. 

All the time you spend worrying about the future and trying to make sure that all the parts add up and if you miss one part then, well you can’t go back and your life will be a world of regret. Jesus and a cup of tea. 

After showing me some good people near the end of their journey here, God put a bulldozer through me. He demolished big chunks of my life that were built on the wrong foundation. He took things off me that needed to go and installed new software that scales a lot better. Future proofing. He sat me in a church in Sydney and told me that he already knows how my story ends here on earth so I should just trust the Author, enjoy the story, and stop trying to guess the ending because that’s not how life works and it wouldn’t make any difference anyway because I still have to live it. He’s the Author, not me and certainly not other people’s ideas about how the story should go. But he did promise me that I would like the story.  So I threw away my story, said yes to His and God opened up a new chapter that I can’t tell you about yet but it’s way better than anything I could have written for myself.  It’s not just hippy spirituality and escaping materialism, if anything it’s quite the opposite. It’s accepting that I am blessed regardless and I can enjoy nice things and worldly achievement but if God decides to put a full stop on it, then I don’t need it and I’m not defined by it. Jesus and a cup of tea. 

While I was still weeping at the tomb wondering why everything was so hard, Jesus has already risen up and gone on ahead of me. This is the new life we get promised at Easter. Not that life will be free of pain or hard times or Roman torture but that we can get up and go again and I’m starting to think that here on earth, that’s the most important thing of all. If there is something that you are still weeping at the tomb over this Easter and you’ve just kind of given up and sat down because it’s hard, go and find a Gethsemane of your own and get real with your Author. Confess your fears and get on the same page with something that isn’t temporary. Write a list of what is happening in your story and don’t worry about what is not happening (I’ll share with you one day an example of this in my life that will blow your mind). He’s a very good Author and the tomb is empty.