Monday, March 24, 2014

What does a computing professional look like? Find out on Khan Academy!

We have thousands of K-12 students learning computer programming on Khan Academy - we don't expect all of them to go on to major in Computer Science and dedicate their career to computing, but well, we certainly hope that some sizable portion of them do make that decision. But do they even know what it means to have a career in computing? As Shuchi Grover described in her article on fixing misperceptions of CS, research shows that most students don't have a "clear understanding of what computer science is and what a computer scientist does."

That's why we've launched our "Meet the Professional" series. We found people working in different fields (like physics, charity, and games), from all over the world (including a few nomads), with a ton of different hobbies, too (dancing, archery, biking, writing) - our goal is to show that diversity comes in many forms!

Here's who we started with:

For each of the professionals, we asked them what they work on, how they learned to program, and what they do for fun. We also finished off by asking each of them "What’s your one piece of advice for new programmers?" and we got some great responses from them, which I want to share a few of here:

"Don’t be afraid to break stuff, it’s all virtual anyway." - Yann Dauphin
"Do not let other people intimidate you. Everyone is continuously learning, and people will probably be using very different tools and languages just a few years from now. This field is extremely broad but extremely young, and we’re not even close to figuring out all the new things we can do, and a few years and a big ego don’t matter as much as being able to continually learn." - Amy Quispe
"Programming is super creative - find a problem you’re interested in solving or something you want to create and it will make the challenges worth solving." - Lauren Haynes
"It’s easy to look at great programmers and feel really inadequate, like you’ll never measure up or be a ‘real’ programmer. But I have had the privilege of meeting some of the greatest programmers on the web today, and they all have had the same experience - they all felt like fakes and impostors when they were starting out, and none of them thought it was easy at first, no matter how easy they make it look now. If you have written one single line of code, then you are a real programmer - and if you keep on coding and learning, you will one day be a master, too." - Bill Mills
"The most important thing for me has been to make things that make me giggle." - Marcos Ojeda

The students have loved the stories so far, expressing their thanks in the comments that they've found people who both inspire them and are like them. A few favorite reactions:

"Thank you so much for your article and for your background story, I can honestly relate to the micro-inequity issues that you mention. However after reading your articles, I am encouraged to persevere in this field that I find so interesting." - a reaction to Philip Guo
"You rock! You're a programmer, you think goofy programs are important, and you have a dog... what could be awesomer? a clue: NOTHING." - a reaction to Marcos Ojeda
"I've been trying to learn on my own while I get ready for a 2nd bachelors in computer science. I feel positive but so nervous about the change--I'm 26 and just learning to code, I'm a girl and not a typical geek, and it feels like I'm leaving the known behind. This was the perfect thing for me to click on! It's encouraging to read your story (down to that we even have the same first names and enjoy dancing). Thanks." - a reaction to Carrie Cai
"I really like how the author mentioned how he failed at code until grad school! For me, it's encouraging to know that it's possible to start later on in life, especially now, where a lot of people start really young and are pros from the start. It really is nice to know that everyone has a chance to become good at coding, regardless on current skill level!" - a reaction to Bill Mills

We look forward to adding more computing professionals to the series, to further expand the range in students' minds of what they can do with computer programming and computer science knowledge. If you have ideas for someone that would be great to highlight, let us know. If you are teaching students, have them read through the series, ask them who their favorite is, and if it's given them new ideas for what they could do. Help us show them the diverse world of computing professionals!

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