My Experience as a Mentor at CoderDojo

One of the many topics that come up when discussing the gender diversity issues in tech is the lack of visibility of people in tech who aren’t straight, white, cisgender men. I myself didn’t even know about software engineering until I began researching computing degrees so I can’t say I ever had any role models for such tech roles when growing up. Until this point my only experience of IT was creating spreadsheets in my GCSE ICT class and that certainly didn’t excite me but in the past few years I have noticed that college courses are adding software modules and there has been a rise of coding clubs for kids.

I am part of the Women in Tech group at Sky Betting & Gaming where we have discussed visiting schools and increasing visibility, but because we work for a gambling company it becomes problematic for us to speak with people who are under the age of eighteen. I still wanted to make myself visible as a potential role model to those interested in technology so I looked into mentoring at a code club as an individual. After some research I decided that CoderDojo looked great and unlike some, would be a commitment I could keep to as it is just one Saturday morning per month. Luckily for me Bradford CoderDojo already existed and after contacting them, I was able to come along and help out at their next event.

On the morning of my first visit to the club I was rather nervous for a number of reasons. First off I have almost zero natural instinct when it comes to interacting with kids who don’t happen to be my niece or nephew, and that makes me a little scared of them. Another reason is kids are amazingly smart and very inquisitive which left me worrying that I wouldn’t have enough from my five plus years of experience as a software engineer to answer all of their questions correctly. This ties closely into my third worry where I often feel as a female I need to have the answers for everything; if I don’t I fear people somehow managing to blaming it on my gender. Having such worries is a good thing though as it means I’m putting myself out of my comfort zone and that is where personal growth and development happens. The Marissa Mayer quote of “I always did something I’m a little not ready to do” is definitely one I try to keep in mind.

Once at the dojo and having gone through all the introductions we split off into four different sessions and I decided to join one led by another mentor on creating webpages with HTML and JavaScript; I felt my existing knowledge was most suited to this group. It was a really relaxed session where kids coded pages about their favourite anime characters, themselves and one even drew up some wireframes with her dad to show how she wanted her page to look. I had the opportunity to help with a number of questions and even got to work through a moment I feared with one of the students; I didn’t know the answer right away! Neither of us knew why a piece of JavaScript didn’t work, which once we figured it out it resulted in a joyous fist pump moment that really reminded me of why I love programming so much, and now I get to share that with the next generation of programmers.

I have now been to a few CoderDojo sessions and so far I have learnt something new at each session. I have seen a 3D printer in action, helped program a micro:bit with MicroPython and realised that whilst I don’t always immediately have the answer, I do have a skillset that allows me to troubleshoot languages I haven’t used before and find the answer we need.

As ever I am working on ways to push myself out of my comfort zone and further develop myself. I now have a few blog posts under my belt, I did my first public talk at an Ada Lovelace day event and off the back of CoderDojo I may well have another public talk I can give and eventually look to run my own session one Saturday.