Rise of the Nerd

I’m a nerd.  If you’ve read any of my previous posts (or you know me), you already know this to be true.

For my professional life, I’m a Co-Founder and the CTO of a company called Dunwello (www.dunwello.com).  I have been writing software the better part of like a hundred years and working for startups for much of that.  I went to college to be an architect.  I was absolutely positive I wanted to be an architect.  100%.  My plan was to get to school, do some Arts & Sciences, and then transfer into the School of Architecture (Syracuse University).  That plan was detoured in my 1st semester when I found a new school:  The School of Information Studies (which has since been renamed to the iSchool).  I always describe this school, which was relatively new, as Computer Science without the pocket protector and Business without the suit.  I went for a tour one afternoon after hearing about the school from one of my sister’s friends.  It was probably half way through that tour that I decided to fill out the transfer paperwork and get started.  I never looked back and I never even looked at the Architecture School.  It turns out, in retrospect, that what I was drawn to with architecture is the same thing I’m drawn to with software and technology:  I love building things from the ground up.  I love seeing things come together; construction.  Math & science have always been fun for me and generally, logic puzzles and problem solving in general are right in my wheel house.

It should come as little to no surprise that my daughters have at least some of those same interests.  It is not fully clear, at this point, to what degree yet but if you know them, you know that they are both sneaky nerdy and intuitive.  Chloe and Julianna enjoy giving each other math problems, building with whatever, and asking lots of questions about how things work (as many do).

So last week, the four of us are having dinner, and I’m talking about how I had a lot of meetings that particular day (I am generally not a fan of lots of meetings).

Julianna asks, “Daddy, were any of the meetings for someone who wants to come work at Dunwello?”

As a matter of fact, yes, one of them was.

“I want to come work at Dunwello when I’m a grownup.”

Awesome, that would be great.  I ask her what kind of job she’d like to do.

“I want to be a software engineer like you.”

And then Chloe echoes that she would also like to be a software engineer at Dunwello.


Of course, l’m sure most kids would say something like that so I’m not going to hold them to this but, it magnified some thoughts I had already been thinking:  I work in an industry, doing a job, where the large majority of professionals are men.  Software engineering is just not a field that a lot of women have adopted.

Why is that I continue to wonder?  Jokes mostly aside, it can’t be that my male brain is bigger right?  Is it that I’m just less sensitive?  What’s the story?  My girls seem to love all the same sorts of things that I loved when I was their age.  What’s to say that they couldn’t or wouldn’t go down the same path that I did?

Where’s the disconnect?

I’d like to think I will be fully supportive of whatever career path they end up taking short of a few exceptions (Drug Dealer, Prostitution, Blogger, etc).  My goal isn’t to make sure my daughters become software engineers but rather to help to provide an environment where they can feel like exploration of any profession (short of a few exceptions) is acceptable without social pressure that this activity is for boys and that one is for girls and so on.

With that, a friend recently introduced me to code.org.  It is a website (check it out – highly recommend) that has all sorts of free resources for various aged kids to learn about the fundamentals of computer science.  There are lesson plans for teachers and interactive puzzles/games for kids.  There are videos and links to resources and all sorts of nerdy things.

I also recently heard about CS EdWeek from the Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council’s Ed Foundation (MassTLC – masstlcef.org).  CS EdWeek (http://masstlcef.org/cs-edweek/) is designed to be a week to inspire and promote computer science awareness within the education system.  I, of course, love it.

Last weekend, I asked the girls if they wanted to do some puzzles on the computer and learn some computer programming.  They were psyched.  Resounding “YES”es from both girls.  I went to code.org and sat them down in front of the browser.  Maybe they’d enjoy it; maybe not.

For a bit more than an hour, they sat, going through puzzles.  They switched who had control of the mouse between each puzzle.

Julianna and Chloe's first try using code.org
Julianna and Chloe’s first try using code.org

I sat with them the whole time but let them play and work things out together.  It was a ton of fun watching them work through the puzzles.  The above photo is from one of the earlier puzzles that has an Angry Bird theme.  Later, we did some Frozen themed puzzles.

I have a meeting soon with the principal of their elementary school about the school’s thoughts/plans on incorporating CS into the curriculum in some way.

Like I said before, I don’t need them to become software engineers.  What I need is for them to be inspired, both educationally and creatively, to stretch and challenge their minds and figure out what makes them happy.  I don’t need or want to produce an army of nerds but an army of open minded critical thinkers with the tools and confidence to pursue whatever truly interests them down the road…

…well, that wouldn’t be so awful right?