One year ago today: what have your formative geek experiences in the past year been?

2010 April 15

Girl With Computer (Ashley McClelland) has a post titled “One year ago today – Learning to Embrace the Tech Community”.

One year ago today, I also had a very pivotal experience. I attended my first technical conference– an unconference, a barcamp — at the Rochester Institute of Technology… up until that point, I had only ever seen HTML and CSS (sparingly.) I was familiar with HTML and in-line styles. And I knew how to use things like myspace and facebook. My background was exclusively education and English (literature and writing.) I was interested in programming, but I felt a severe barrier to entry: I thought it was too technical for me…

That day, despite my intimidation, I was inspired by the things I saw. I attended an excellent talk on Haskell during which the presenter admitted he had very little experience with the language… I saw another talk on the OLPC/XO by an awesome woman, Karlie Robinson, who detailed the effort and reached out to the tech community to engage their skills towards a cause for education. I could relate. I even brought myself to go up to her after the talk and give her my e-mail address, given my experience in education, thinking maybe I could help. For the first time, I thought, maybe there is something worthwhile that I can contribute to the tech community.

I started programming one year ago today, because I was inspired by the technical talks I saw that day, and because I realized I am not any different than any other extraordinary geek…

I gave a talk on learning programming today at BarcampRoc 2010… I no longer feel limited by what I don’t know. Because I know I can learn. I didn’t know this small, and seemingly obvious bit of knowledge, one year ago today.

Today, I know.

What formative geek experiences have you had during the past year? Post your stories in the comments.

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This post was written by mchua.

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3 Responses
  1. takingitoutside permalink
    April 15, 2010

    Last summer I wrote my Master’s thesis. I was finishing up a one-year program that required several twenty-page papers each semester, and I hadn’t ever written a twenty-page paper before that. I struggled with those papers, and was rather horrified when I realized that the thesis needed to be twice that length.

    My thesis started off as one of those twenty-page final papers. It was supposed to cover three short films, but I could only fit in one. I wasn’t strong on theory at all, so I was venturing into completely new territory, both mentally and physically (I now <3 the PN section of the library). The conclusion?

    1. An interesting, useful paper, whose scope I had to limit because I found tons of theory to fill out that page count.
    2. A successful thesis defence.
    3. A successful thesis-based paper given at a small regional conference, that led to
    4. A suggestion that I should make a dissertation out of my thesis and submit a certain chunk to a rather prestigious academic journal in my field.
    5. I used that thesis (or exerpts from it) as my writing sample when I applied to grad school, and I got into two Ph.D. programs.

    Two years ago I wouldn't have been sure whether I could contribute much to the academic conversation in my field. Now? I not only can do it, I have!

  2. Rikki Kite permalink
    April 15, 2010

    In the past year or so I’ve met dozens of women I’ve followed online, including Skud, Mel, Erica Brescia, and Amber Graner. And I’ve had the chance to spend some one-on-one time with people and now know them much better, including Cathy Malmrose, Emma Jane Hogbin, Akkana Peck, and Selena Deckelmann (to name only a few). In our industry, which is so often remote and online, meeting people in person is very inspiring and motivating to me. The women I’ve met have helped me think differently and act differently (by encouraging me to speak in public, for example, or be a bit more assertive and fearless). My advice to anyone wanting to have a ‘formative geek experience’ is to get out there and meet people – introduce yourself online, or attend an event, speak at an event, volunteer at an event, or even organize a local meetup.

  3. tigtog permalink
    April 17, 2010

    My big step forward geek-wise in the last year came from Mary offering to hackfest with me over the shift of Hoyden About Town to a new server with a new domain name. The immense difference between me slowly learning what I needed to do sysadmin-wise step by step from (excellent, don’t get me wrong) user-forums online, and being taken through it by someone to whom the fundamentals were such an open book was truly eye-opening.

    Before, I hadn’t even downloaded a version of Putty.

    Afterwards, I was able to take what I’d learned at that hackfest and use it to get more of out those excellent user-forums so that I could find out how to de-infest Feministe (what originally appeared to be a simple admin-hack turned out, after that lot had been locked out, to have other folders full of layer after layer after layer of compromised files that all had to be sanitised) and use that experience to learn how to harden and optimise other sites.

    That all gave me more confidence to play around with PHP coding more in my website customisations instead of just the prettifying HTML/CSS stuff. That’s been a lot of fun, as well as making a huge difference to what I can offer to clients.

    Thank you, Mary.

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