Perfect is the enemy of done

My boyfriend and I rent a cubicle in the coworking office nearby. To feel more at home, he’s hung a few things on the cubicle wall – including a picture I made on a painting class last year. It was my first painting on canvas ever, and while it might look pleasant from a certain distance, a closer glance reveals all kinds of rookie mistakes, including some very unfortunate trees.

This could have been a really nice landscape painting…

It’s not easy to concentrate on my work with this painting hanging always there in front of my eyes. Perhaps I can take it back home and fix it? Sometimes I feel quite ashamed to have it hung in a prominent place in the office, visible to people I don’t know.
Yet Artur says he truly likes this picture, despite all of its flaws. If I am to take it down, he says, I’d better bring another one I feel more comfortable with.
I’m still yet to start painting that another one. A blank canvas or sheet of paper are extremely scary. Almost as scary as a canvas that’s filled in not well enough.
The same fear paralyses me when it comes to blogging. I’d love to write about the big, scary, important stuff and never seem to find the right words for it that don’t sound trivial. Then I come across a perfect version of the blog post I’ve tried to write for months, and immediately give up. (You should totally read that post by the way. This is precisely the thing I would write if I was skilled and experienced enough).
A drive for perfection can sometimes be an advantage, especially at work. It pushes me to dig really deep into certain topics, far beyond what most people would do. This lets me understand the big picture and root cause of every problem, and find a solution that’s good both for short and long term.
On the other hand, the time I take to find that one perfect solution would be sufficient to find two good enough ones. I don’t know what is balance between quality and quantity. I take too long to solve each problem, and then work overtime to avoid being a burden to my colleagues. After all, they have to deal with all the customers I didn’t have time to reach to.
It’s easier to spend an hour researching a topic, than to risk sending a solution that’s simply not right. It’s easier to write or paint nothing, than to write or paint stuff I might not be so proud of. It’s easier to spend the entire life reading about the awesome stuff people do, than to try something new and suck at it.
I find it extremely hard to feel comfortable around things I did imperfectly, and it’s a creativity killer. You can’t start anything new without making a few mistakes along the way. If everything you do has to be perfect, you will never get anything meaningful done. Most probably, the fear of making mistakes will let you only do stuff that’s easy, boring and repetitive.
I love how Leo Babauta of ZenHabits put this into words:
Uncertainty, and the fear and discomfort that arises from uncertainty, will always be there, unless you’re doing something you absolutely know how to do (like watching TV, checking Facebook or playing games).
I guess I should keep the painting on our cubicle wall for now. Maybe one day it will make me feel proud of how much I’ve learned. Especially to feel comfortable with my own imperfections.

Not everyone can be a programmer. But everyone should learn how to code.

Programming is trendy. Every month I see a new ad of some course that will supposedly turn me into a developer. Some of them claim they can teach everyone to code in as little as 6 weeks. Others last a whole year or more, but will only collect any money once you finally land your first coding job.
Some of my friends complain that such courses do a great harm. They sell a false hope that everyone can be a programmer, even though most participants will never get there. And what’s even worse, you can’t get all the needed expertise over the course of just 6 weeks – the most you can get is a false sense of overconfidence.
If you’re feeling the same and think that code produced by those people is a true disaster, think again. The alternative is a world where hardly anyone ever tried coding at all.

Writing bad code is not a disaster. It’s the necessary first step towards writing some good one. (Source: ART, DESIGN, CODE).

I’m not here to say everyone can be a good programmer. Most people wouldn’t even enjoy working as one in the first place! Still, I do believe everyone should learn how to code, or should at least give it a try. It has become one of the most important skills you can learn, like reading, writing, googling, and basic math.
Just like with coding, most books, articles, and blogs people have written are simply awful. I’m sure you’ve read at least one terrible book, and it was probably written by someone who makes a living this way. So why do we force every single kid to learn how to write? Do we really need more Twilight fan fiction in the world, or blogs about Justin Bieber?
We don’t teach kids to write in hope they become the next Shakespeare. If that was the goal, we’d just focus on the top 5% that show greatest potential and give up on the rest. Instead, we’re giving them an important tool to create the world they live in, structure their thinking, share their arguments in an organised way, and to communicate with the rest of that world. In that sense, coding is no different.
Even the most basic coding course will give you something invaluable – a glimpse of insight into how computers works, and of how their language translates into ours. With our lives becoming more and more dependent on technology, this is a critical skill to have. I have no idea what our jobs will be like in another 30 years, but I can guarantee that computers will play a huge role in the most of them. Understanding that role, and making advantage of it, will make a crucial difference between an average teacher, scientist, or marketer, and a great one – even if they produce really bad code, or no code at all.
I don’t expect anyone to learn programming in one day – even one year might not be enough. However, if you never try it, you’ll never know if it could be something for you. If it wasn’t for one random painting class at a company meetup, I’d never have known that painting gives me so much joy, bought a large heap of painting supplies, or learned the difference between oil and acrylic in practice. I’ll probably never become a professional painter, and neither will most people attending that class, but I’m happy I had that one chance to try.

My favorite painting so far in acrylic on canvas. I still have a lot to learn, but this won’t stop me from trying!

Now if someone wants to try coding, I want to give them the same chance. If there’s just one person inspired by our class to explore programming on their own, this is a reason good enough to teach it.

Houston, we all have a big problem here

Okay, this is quite embarrassing. For more time than I’d like to admit I thought that Houston was the name of some really smart guy at NASA. It took me the while to realize there’s actually a whole space center in Houston, and soon after that I got a chance to go there and see it myself. As much as I enjoyed all the tours, exhibitions, and seeing it all from the inside, it was actually a very heartbreaking experience.

Looking pro at the Mission Control, as if this whole Houston was an old friend of mine

It totally blows my mind how they sent folks to the Moon and back with the sixties’ technology. The onboard computer on Apollo 11 had 64kB memory, and even this was mostly read-only. At the Mission Control where they did the heavy math, all available machines combined had less than 9MB memory in total. They also occupied the whole base level of the whole building.

Mission Control as seen from the front row. Some very important folks used to sit there, like several US presidents or the Queen of England.

Somehow, with all technology constraints they had, they managed to calculate the correct flight trajectory, fire all engines precisely when needed, make sure the spaceship stays on its course, monitor its status and astronauts’ health, and lift off the Lunar Module in just the right time with just the right speed to return it safely back to Earth.
Imagine what humans could do if they had a thousand times more powerful machines? Hey, let’s dream big – what about a million times more powerful ones?
I happen to have one in my pocket, and the closest it got to a Moon landing was taking a selfie with an astronaut (who never had a chance to go to the Moon either). There, here it is:

My phone’s rocket science at work. The astronaut on this photo is Michael McCulley, and he’s as cool as the guys who flew to the Moon. He just had the bad luck of being born a little bit too late.

48 years after the famous Apollo mission, it still remains the humanity’s greatest achievement in space exploration.
48 years is more than it took to get from the first airplane ever to sending men into space.
Let that sink with you for a moment.
Since the Apollo program, we’ve taken baby steps back into space, but nowhere near where we used to be back then.
There was an exhibition at NASA about their upcoming mission to Mars. Unfortunately, that’s not going to happen in this decade, and most probably not in the next one either. With all my enthusiasm for Mars exploration, I was still quite underimpressed.

Testing Mars rovers and robots at NASA training center. The SpaceX Dragon capsule hasn’t arrived there yet.

Of course, I don’t blame anyone at NASA. They’re desperately underfunded. Someone somewhere must have decided the billions of tax dollars carelessly burned by spaceships in the atmosphere could be used for more virtuous purposes, like healthcare or education. Or killer spy drones.
I know I shouldn’t be surprised. That’s what governments do. They prefer to spend money on stuff that will most likely get them elected again to the office. Once the Soviet Union developed sufficiently good missiles, military importance of space exploration decreased a lot – and so did the funding.

The retired Saturn V rocket. Nothing more powerful has been built so far.

I know I shouldn’t be surprised, but it hit me really hard while I was walking among the artefacts of the past NASA glory. Why would taxpayers choose spending on army over science in the first place?
Is the return on investment in science working so slow, that we fail to notice all the benefits we’re getting?
Do we really feel more secure by pouring more and more money into the military?
I dream of a world where all nations would invest at least as much in science as they do in their armies. Imagine where we could be in just 10 or 20 years? Or what our phones would be capable of with all that rocket science?
Houston, we must have gone terribly wrong at some point. Where do we go now and what do we do to fix it?

5 books to read if you’re losing faith in humanity

Even if you’re the most optimistic person in the world, following world news can recently feel quite overwhelming. It seems that technical progress has far outpaced our mental growth, and the four-year-olds in us are not yet ready for the inventions of modern civilization.

If you slowly get to believe that humanity is screwed, or caught yourself looking for a safe hideaway on a remote pacific island, here are a few books that might help.

Steven Pinker – The Better Angels of Our Nature

betterangelsThis massive volume was put together by a psychology professor at Harvard. He makes a very brave and counter-intuitive argument that we’re much more peaceful and better off than at any time in human history – and backs it up with an incredible amount of data.

With painstaking attention to details Pinker analyzes the violent habits of our ancestors, the emotions driving us towards and away from violence, and the slow processes that made the Earth a more peaceful place throughout the course of human history.

Even though the tone of the book is strongly optimistic, it’s far from all kinds of New Agey mumbo-jumbo. What brought us to this peaceful point is not a cosmic fate, but complex social processes that can be still reversed if we let them so. Still, seeing where we’re coming from and how much progress we’ve made so far is a refreshing and much needed revelation that puts our current challenges in perspective. Perhaps we’re not that screwed after all.

Good quotes:

It’s not just that there are two sides to every dispute. It’s that each side sincerely believes its version of the story, namely that it is an innocent and long-suffering victim and the other side a malevolent and treacherous sadist. And each side has assembled a historical narrative and database of facts consistent with its sincere belief.

Our species was born into the dilemma because our ultimate interests are distinct, because our vulnerable bodies make us sitting ducks for exploitation, and because the enticements to being the exploiter rather than the exploited will sentence all sides to punishing conflict. Unilateral pacifism is a losing strategy, and joint peace is out of everyone’s reach. These maddening contingencies are inherent in the mathematical structure of the payoffs, and in that sense they are in the nature of reality. It is no wonder that the ancient Greeks blamed their wars on the caprice of the gods, or that the Hebrews and Christians appealed to a moralistic deity who might jigger the payoffs in the next world and thereby change the perceived incentive structure in this one.

Chris Hadfield – An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth

astronautsguideAs soon as you leave Earth’s atmosphere, you enter a place that’s absolutely hostile to life. Surviving in such extreme conditions requires a certain set of skills acquired in the long and stressful process of astronaut training.

Even though the problems they usually deal with in outer space are quite otherworldly, the tools and techniques of the astronauts can help face our challenges back on Earth. In his book Hadfield explains how you can never be too prepared for any event, how to contribute positively to your team goals even if the situation seems quite hopeless, how to savor little joys of life, and how to stay calm and avoid panic when everything around is trying to kill you.

A solid piece of advice, served on a beautiful plate of the vast, indifferent Cosmos.

Good quotes:

My dad could be a stern taskmaster and on principle didn’t believe children should complain, but he also disapproved of whining because he understood that it is contagious and destructive. Comparing notes on how unfair of difficult or ridiculous something is does promote bonding – and sometimes that’s why griping continues, because it’s reinforcing an us-against-the-world feeling. Very quickly, though, the warmth of unity morphs to the sourness of resentment, which makes hardships seem even more intolerable and doesn’t help get the job done. Whining is the antithesis of expeditionary behaviour, which is all about rallying the troops around a common goal.

The fact is that even the least eventful day in space is the stuff of dreams. In some ways, of course, it’s the improbability of being there at all that makes the experience so transcendent. But fundamentally, life off Earth is in two important respects not at all unworldly: You can choose to focus on the surprises and pleasures, or the frustrations. And you choose to appreciate the smallest scraps of experience, the everyday moment, or to value only the grandest, most stirring ones. Ultimately, the real question is whether you want to be happy.

Ryan Holiday – Obstacle is the Way

obstacleSome people seem to be invincible, coming stronger and wiser from all the challenges life has thrown in their way. Some other ones break down as soon as the first possible thing goes wrong. The difference between them, Ryan Holiday says after ancient stoics, lies not in any external circumstances, but rather their own attitude towards life.

To illustrate the point, the book describes the stories of a few dozen people who objectively had every possible reason to give up. Instead of wondering why they had to face such unfair difficulties, all of them treated the conditions they found themselves in as a unique opportunity. Poverty, severe illness, depression, economic crisis, physical disabilities, discrimination, these all can be turned into an advantage, should you choose to look at them this way.

The tone of the book may lean a bit towards pathos, but its contents makes it certainly worth reading.

Good quotes:

You don’t convince people by challenging their longest and most firmly held opinions. You find common ground and work from there. Or you look for leverage to make them
listen. Or you create an alternative with so much support from other people that the opposition voluntarily abandons its views and joins your camp.

Where one person sees a crisis, another one can see opportunity. Where one is blinded by success, another sees reality with ruthless objectivity. Where one loses control of emotions, another can remain calm. Desperation, despair, fear, powerlessness – these reactions are functions of our perceptions. You must realise: Nothing makes us feel this way; we choose to give in to such feelings. Or, like Rockefeller, not to.

Dalai Lama – The Art of Happiness in a Troubled World

artofhappinessPoor village kid at the age of two, leader of a nation at the age of fifteen, refugee running for his life at the age of twenty four. Despite all of the terrible things the Chinese government has done to him and his people, Dalai Lama has never ceased to believe in the underlying goodness in every human being.

In an interview conducted by Howard Cutler, an American psychiatrist, Dalai Lama’s spiritual wisdom gets intertwined with a modern scientific point of view. Combined together, they form a powerful analysis on how social isolation leads to unhappiness in most of the Western world, how most of the violence and hatred comes from adopting an us-versus-them mentality, how a positive attitude can be practiced and nourished, and how radical empathy and focus on our interconnectedness could help us make the world a better place.

You don’t have to be a Buddhist or religious at all for this book to bring you some comfort and hope.

Good quotes:

The difference in one’s vision of human nature can mean the difference between living in a world filled with fellow human beings who are perceived as hostile, violence, and dangerous, or as essentially kind, helpful, and gentle. A deep awareness of the essential goodness of human beings can give us courage and hope. On the individual level as well, such a vision of our basic nature can help promote a greater sense of well-being and connectedness with others. Even if the objective facts, historical and scientific, did not conclusively support either of the two views, from a practical point of view, it is still in our best interest to embrace a more positive view of the human nature. After all, we humans have a tendency to make real what we choose to believe, somewhat in the manner of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Optimist does not mean that you are blind to the actual reality of the situation. It means that you always maintain a positive spirit so that you remain motivated to seek a solution to any given problem. And it means that you recognise that any given situation has many different aspects – optimism involves looking at the situation not only from the standpoint of the problem itself, not only recognising the negative aspects, but also seeking out some positive aspect, some potential benefit, actively looking at the same situation in terms of the potential positive outcomes.

Carl Sagan – The Demon-Haunted World

demon-haunted_worldFor the whole human history we have been struggling to make sense out of our existence and the mysterious forces driving our fate. Our minds are hardly trustworthy and the search for understanding can easily lead us into bullshit or superstition. Luckily, with the combined effort of many such great minds over the course of the time we have the most powerful tool in our hands – the scientific method. It is this force of untapped imagination combined with rigorous skepticism that flies us to the Moon and beyond.

We live in a society fully dependent on science and technology, where nearly no one has even a basic understanding of science and technology. If we don’t put our superstitions behind and start making informed, fact-based decisions, the future for our grandchildren looks very bleak. In fact, there might be no future at all.

Over twenty years after this book has been written, it doesn’t seem that we’ve made much progress on this. Yet as long as there’s a natural-born scientist in every single child, there’s still hope we will figure our way. Sagan has some excellent ideas where to start.

Good quotes:

If we can’t think for ourselves, if we’re unwilling to question authority, then we’re just putty in the hands of those in power. But if the citizens are educated and form their own opinions, then those in power work for us. In every country, we should be teaching our children the scientific method and the reasons for a Bill of Rights. With it comes a certain decency, humility and community spirit. In the demon-haunted world that we inhabit by virtue of being human, this may be all that stands between us and the enveloping darkness.

The business of scepticism is to be dangerous. Scepticism challenges established institutions. If we teach everybody, including, say, high school students, habits of sceptical thought, they will probably not restrict their scepticism to UFOs, aspirin commercials and 35,000-year-old channellees. Maybe they’ll start asking awkward questions about economic, or social, or political, or religious institutions. Perhaps they’ll challenge the opinions of those in power. Then where would we be?

Getting back to the basics

Last year brought many changes for me, and most of them were simply amazing. I have the freedom I’ve always dreamed of – to do something I care about, whenever I want, wherever I want, and the way I want it. After so many years of working the Korean way, this freedom feels truly overwhelming. It’s like trying your best to focus and get down to work in a room where there’s no walls, no floor and no ceiling, and you’re in a constant state of a free fall.

It turns out freedom takes a while to get accustomed to it, and brings a whole lot of inconvenient questions. If there’s nothing you must do, and nothing you can’t do, how come you hardly get out of bed before 10? Why don’t you exercise if you have the most flexible schedule of all people on Earth? How come you hardly actually leave the house, unless you’re leaving the country?

For the last two weeks, I’ve been thinking a lot about what I want out of this year. I came up with an awesome mini-bucketlist with lots of cool, Instagram-worthy things to check off. But the more I thought about this, the more I realized I need to focus on just a few key things, and find my new normal in a life that’s not normal at all. Here are my top priorities for 2017.

Get back to workout, no matter what

There was a time in my life when I was in the gym at least 4 times a week. It was also a time when I led a perfectly regular and distraction-free life. I didn’t even have to think about cooking or cleaning!
The luxury didn’t last long. Once I decided to apply for Automattic, I had two jobs at one point and completely gave up on anything but working, eating and sleeping. Since then, every time I plant a tiny seed for any habit, I go for a trip, break my routine, and forget everything I’ve learned. It’s high time to admit that never is the perfect time to start working out, and to look for a routine that can be followed everywhere, even in a trailer park.
By the end of January I want to exercise at least 3 times a week. The hard part will be to keep it consistently throughout the year, no matter where I am at the time.

Learn to cook well

It’s not like I can’t cook at all, I’m just very far from efficient.
I love cooking for my brothers who are grateful for everything that has food in it, but everyone else on the planet could probably find at least a few things for me to improve. In the kitchen I am so slow and clumsy that it usually becomes too painful to watch, and someone volunteers to save me from this suffering (and also from learning and gaining experience). My biggest pain point is food shopping and planning – I go for the least healthy option when I am hungry, and don’t feel like buying any food when I’m not.
It doesn’t help that I have a boyfriend who cooks much better than me. Or that I got terribly spoiled by a year of living out of company canteen, without even having to use a pot or frying pan once.
I have no ambitions to become a Master Chef, but knowing at least 7 healthy signature meals that I can make efficiently and plan in advance would be a giant leap from where I am now.

Write more on my blog

Once in two weeks would be a good start. Once a week would be super-amazing.
There are so many things I care about in life, and I’m scared to death to write about these things. When I’m emotionally involved in a topic, I tend to drift towards pathos and self-righteousness – and this is driving me nuts.
I used to complain I have nothing more to write about once I returned from Korea. This was such a good lie I actually got to believe it myself. In fact, I’d love to write about Cosmos, human nature, education, challenges facing humanity, love, death, the meaning of it all, mindfulness, leaving an impact, happiness and stuff, but it’s incredibly hard to speak of these things as they are. I always feel I either sound like a stoned cosmic fairy, or a know-it-all judgmental asshole.
Not many things in life make me as vulnerable as writing about stuff I deeply care about. This is precisely why I should keep going. Getting my thoughts out on the Internet gives me clarity that’s hard to achieve otherwise.

Read (and understand!) Feynmann’s Lectures on Physics

As much as I’m in love with the Cosmos, I have only basic understanding of how it works. It’s quite embarrassing, but I hardly know any math beyond high school level (and I graduated as a Bachelor of Engineering!). Well, it’s so embarrassing I’ve never actually admitted this until now.
I tried reading the Lectures on Physics a few years ago, but gave up somewhere around chapter 10. I really enjoyed the book until differential equations in three dimensions appeared out of nowhere and hit me hard in the face.
If I am to write about Cosmos, I must stop pretending I have an idea what I’m talking about, and actually start to have that idea. If that means re-learning the whole university math course from scratch, so it shall be, I guess.


Items on this list are not as interesting or sexy as traveling around Iceland and Thailand, passing an open-water diver’s license, or even learning Spanish. But that’s precisely what I need now, to keep doing the basic stuff no matter how chaotic my life would get. Once I learn to ride the waves, there’s nothing that can stop me on my way to adventure.

2016 was the best year ever

I’m 100% serious here. I can clearly see many alarming global and local trends, but the worst trend of all is the attention economy that rewards extremism and apocalyptic beliefs. I know some regions of the world are deeply torn by terror and war, but when you put that in proper perspective we’re still living in the most peaceful times in human history. Despite what your Facebook feed tells you, the world is not ending yet, and those with different political or religious views are not monsters or brainwashed puppets. The sooner we realize the stone-age software in our brains can’t properly handle clickbait headlines, information overload, and Internet bursts of outrage, the sooner we’ll be able to see the world and other people as they actually are – an incredible place with perfectly fine human beings.
Another popular reason to hate 2016 is an unfair number of celebrity deaths. It’s true that we’ve lost many talented musicians these days, and I’m sure Planet Earth will never be the same without the Starman and princess Leia. However, I guess it’s high time to admit we’re not kids anymore, and seeing our childhood heroes go away is a natural part of growing up. They will only keep getting older and older and eventually dying one by one, so I don’t expect any upcoming year to be much better in this regard. Actually, the only certain thing in life is that we’re all going to die some day, so we might as well accept the fact and make the most of whatever time we still have available.
While I’m still far from perfect in making good use of my time, 2016 was certainly the year when I’ve made the most progress so far. I’m more mature than ever, quite certain what I want in life, and learning every day how to get there. I don’t have any master plan, and it’s not like I’ve figured it all. Sometimes I’d still rather stay in bed for the whole day, or get really upset and cry for no reason. But now that 2016 is almost over, I’m looking back and seeing this year has brought me lots of things I’ve always dreamed of – and more.
It’s quite hard for me to believe, but in the last year I have:
– visited 5 new countries and two continents for the first time;
– bungee jumped from a crazy tall bridge in South Africa:
– gave up smoking;
started drawing and painting, which brings me more joy than I would have ever guessed;
– bought a bike and made it my primary means of transportation;
– spent over a month traveling and working at the same time;
– stargazed in Canadian wilderness surrounded by perfect darkness;
– rode a huge zipline between two mountains;
– rented an RV in Canada and hopped from one beautiful spot to another
– read 30 great books;
– seen red rivers, glaciers, waterfalls, giraffes, lions, rhinos and other wonders of nature;
– swam with sea turtles;
– climbed a pyramid;
– scuba dived in an underwater museum;
– petted an elephant;
– hugged a dozen giant trees;
– visited Mexico on the All Saints Day;
– watched a Cirque du Soleil show;
Looking at all of above, I can’t feel for the current year anything else but gratitude. The bar is raised quite high to make 2017 even better than that. Even though so much stuff in life is totally beyond my control, there’s still a lot I can do to get the most out of the new year, whatever it brings.
If your family and friends are alive and healthy, and yet you believe 2016 was the worst year ever, perhaps you’ve been tricked by the attention economy culture, where everything is BREAKING NEWS, SHOCKING and APPALLING. You may believe you’re fighting for the right cause, but political discussions on the Internets are not going to change the world or anyone’s minds. Actually, they get the society even more polarized and full of hate.
I’ve made my choice to give up on political news and rants completely, and instead to focus on my own attitude, habits and actions. These are the things I can control. These are the things that let me make the world a tiny little bit better on my own micro scale. Not to mention that traveling the world, doing meaningful work, helping people, or painting has much bigger effect on my day-to-day happiness than anything that happens out there.
2017 will be what you make of it. Don’t let random bullshit ruin it for you.

Girls.js – our own little school of magic

There is a certain kind of joy that comes from creating something out of nothing. For the whole human history, this was what pushed painters, writers, and composers forward to paint, write, and compose. To me, there’s even more joy and pride in the process when it feels like bringing something to life. It doesn’t matter if I know the algorithms inside-out, and fully understand the mechanism behind all decisions being made. The sole fact that something seems autonomous or having a sense of humor will always feel like magic and bring me lots of delight.
This is probably the least practical argument for why anyone should code, but it is the one that speaks to me the most. For the most people, there’s usually a certain job to be done, and they need coding to have this job solved, automated, or to figure if it’s feasible at all. Be it for magic or for practical applications, everyone can learn some coding basics and solve simple problems on their own in much less time than they think. All they need is a text editor, a web browser and Internet connection.
Some folks – mostly those who’ve never tried programming – believe it requires some secret black sorcery skills, incomprehensible for mortal humans. This could have been true a generation ago, but now that programming languages have become much more intuitive, it’s more similar to cooking than it’s to rocket science. Personally, I find coding a whole lot easier than cooking. If something goes wrong, I can always undo the last action or even restart the whole thing from scratch, which is kinda difficult when you’re dealing with a burnt pie.
Last week me and my friends organized a free JavaScript class for girls who had zero experience with it. We got much more applications than we could handle this time, and the feedback we got was overwhelmingly positive. In a few hours our students, most of whom had never tried programming before, took  a simple picture gallery and brought it to life with code . We’ve barely touched some very basic JavaScript features, but none of us ever dreamed of teaching the whole language in a day. Instead, the girls got to see how solving certain problems with code is well in the scope of their abilities.

Our gallery on autoplay mode – the real thing can do a bit more than this GIF.

As a mentor teaching the class I got to learn even more. Even though we’ve crafted the course with a total beginner in mind, not every concept or metaphor were as clear to beginners as we thought it would be. Browser compatibility issues came out in few unexpected places. We’ve overestimated the difficulty of our course (some participants finished it well ahead of time). Launching it early with a small group helped us collect a ton of valuable feedback on how we can improve the future editions.
Observing our students – their motives, learning styles, and challenges – was very educational for me as well. Some of them signed up for the course cause they were considering a future career change. Some others came for the freedom to get their websites working in any way they would like, without having to ask others for help. There were some looking to understand their developers better, so that they can improve communication in their projects. Every one of them had her own unique learning style, her own unique pain points, and all the right skills needed to solve the task.
I’ve always believed that everyone can learn how to code, and everyone should learn how to code, even if they never plan to code for a living. Nobody doubts the benefits of learning how to write without becoming a professional writer, or learning a foreign language without becoming a professional interpreter. Similarly, algorithmic thinking is a tool that greatly expands our understanding of the world, and gives us the power to shape it with our hands. I’m proud we created Girls.js out of nothing and can’t wait to see where this adventure will take us. From our first course we learned there’s a huge need for projects like this.
Cover photo: Anna Juszkiewicz. Gallery tutorial inspired by Mark Lee’s simple slideshow.