This term, we ran two courses at the University of Cambridge - a Beginners HTML/CSS course and an Advanced Python course. CF: G interviewed the Advanced instructors, Charles, Melis and Natasha, to see how they got on with the courses, what their highlights were and what advice they’d give to women interested in a career in the tech sector.
CF:G - Thanks so much for taking the time to do an interview with us. To start off with, could you tell us a bit more about what you do as a day job?
Melis: I work as an Investigator Scientist at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology. I work on building web tools to study residue interaction networks in protein structures.
Charles: I am doing a Postdoc at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology. In my work I try to understand how genetically identical cells are able to behave differently and I use programming and statistical tools to get answers.
Natasha: I’m in the final year of my Bioinformatics PhD at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology. Mostly, I work on analysing different aspects of gene fusion mutations in cancer using various quantitative approaches.
CF:G - What was your favourite part of the course?
Melis: I really liked the last session where students presented their own projects. It really shows what the students who don’t have any programming experience at all can do with what they learnt during the course. It made me very happy to see that our contribution in teaching Python was useful for the girls.
Charles: It was great to see the girls immediately apply the programming basics that they learned at the course. They used those skills to build websites that were useful for their own projects.
Natasha: Programming is good fun but can be seen as a bit arcane, and I think that demystifying it and being part of people’s first programming experience was quite rewarding.
CF:G - Can you tell us about some of the course competition website entries from your course?
Melis: All projects were fantastic. Each group used different aspects of what they learnt during the course. Some girls combined their knowledge of HTML/CSS with Python to build websites, and some used only pure Python. They were all very good.
Charles: The project presentations were great. One that stood out for me was a website with which the girls intended to collect memberships for a society that they were involved in. You could really see that they had fun developing the website.
Natasha: There were some really fantastic ones! There was an entry that wasn’t a website, but was more of an economic simulation game that used econometrics theory to model when a group should agree to purchase some good. In addition to web-based programming, Python has a lush history of being used in scientific and quantitative computing, and it’s great that a student brought out that aspect.
CF:G - What advice would you give to students who’ve completed a CF:G course and want to go on to pursue a career in the tech sector?
Melis: They should definitely go for it. I would recommend them to first check which sub sector in tech they are interested in and focus more on that. They can improve their programming skills by doing online courses. There are plenty of them, Codecademy being one of them.
Charles: In attending a CF:G course you do not only learn programming, you also get together with other bright and motivated people. Keep in touch and encourage each other to improve your programming.
Natasha: Absolutely go for it! :) As an additional point, I always like to emphasize that plenty of successful people started programming “late” and/or didn’t formally study computer science. Programming is quite a meritocratic field, and if you’re interested in the work then you really can self-teach yourself enough to kick start your career.
CF:G - What do you think is the benefit of attending the course for students who come from a non-STEM background?
Melis: I would definitely recommend everyone regardless of their background to learn coding. There will always be a need for programming skills even if the job is going to be unrelated. For instance, a history student can make a web app about the history project she works on using the skills she learnt during the course.
Charles: The course gives you a kickstart no matter what your background is. Everyone can program! As a student with a non-STEM background, attending the course will make it easier to demonstrate that you can program to a future employer.
Natasha: Whereas students in engineering or mathematics degree regulatory encounter some sort of programming during their studies, this is still quite rare in most other subjects. Programming really is for everyone, and the non-STEM students seemed very happy to have a chance to dive into the content.
CF:G - Lastly, what advice would you give those who are interested in becoming a CF:G instructor?
Melis: Becoming a CF:G instructor is a lot of fun. You become good friends with the other instructors, exchange knowledge. You also learn a lot while teaching. The students are amazing, they are very eager to learn and try everything during the course.
Charles: Go for it! Aside from being good fun, it encourages you to re-learn programming as you are now teaching it. It gives you a different perspective and makes you a better programmer yourself.
Natasha: I found it a very valuable and rewarding experience. The students that voluntarily attend these classes are quite motivated and interested in learning, and you also get to catch up on Python topics that you might not encounter every day. I mostly do data-oriented programming, and it was fun to learn more about the web app side of things.
CF:G - Thank you for your time!
Code First: Girls