Code Club – Lucy’s Story

A few months ago, I started work on a new project which involved a lot of data and data visualisation; it occurred to me that I could do some parts of it much more efficiently using something like Google charts – at least I could if I knew how to code. I haven’t done this since college so it was a bit daunting, but I decided to give it a go and see how far I could get. As it turns out it’s not that difficult if you have someone else’s example to work from, and as time has gone on I’ve found out that most of the developers I know work this way.

Following new tech groups and communities through social media, I kept hearing about code clubs to support women in particular who were getting back into technical roles, starting businesses with a tech product, or who just wanted to know a bit more about it for personal projects. In cities there are Code Clubs and Coffee & Code meets and Women in Tech network events springing up all over the place, so a novice can go along and be mentored by experts – but unlike formal learning, there’s no pressure, no homework and no assignments. It’s just – turn up, have a go, have fun. That sounded like something I would benefit from!

There didn’t seem to be anything like that happening in Exeter, so I decided to set up something at County Hall for one afternoon after work, and see what happened.

We started off as a small group with a mixed set of interests – some people wanted to know about building websites, some people wanted to learn SQL, some people wanted to just recover the stuff they’d forgotten from school about how computers work. We set up a few sessions where we got experts in to talk about particular topics, which was good, but then we started to find that after work wasn’t a good time for everyone so we switched to Wednesday lunchtimes.

At about the same time as we made the switch to lunchtimes, I realised I had a Raspberry Pi computer sitting at home unused – a birthday present for my son a couple of years ago that he’d never really got into: so with his permission I brought it in to the club to use as a demo machine.

Because the Raspberry Pi Foundation is an educational charity, they’ve worked with other organisations to produce classroom kits and materials like the CamJam starter kit – a few simple electronic components, and online worksheets that you work through to create short basic programmes in Python language.

We made all the circuits in the kit – traffic light LEDs and a morse code buzzer – and now at home my daughter is helping me build one of the other kits, a little robot that can follow a line on the ground using sensors. Coding is all very well but it really starts to come to life when you can make it DO things in the real world …

The difference the club has made to people, me included, is to realise that this stuff is not as hard as it looks, that’s there’s a lot of support out there for beginners and returners, and that we haven’t lost the capacity to learn just because we’ve (allegedly) grown up!



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