Erika Savell | Software Developer | Christchurch
Q. Girls and non-binary children often find it hard to see a pathway for themselves into a coding career. How did you get into coding?
During high school I turned down a few chances to try out coding. The entire concept was scary and daunting, something reserved for super geniuses. Then in my first year at university I had a spare paper. After narrowing my choices down to two papers, I tossed a coin and enrolled in Intro to Computer Science. I was blown away in the first lecture. I had expected coding to be complicated and confusing, but it mostly just felt fun! I was hooked after an hour, and I switched my major after a week.
Q. What is one piece of advice you have for girls and non-binary children?
When I started out, I was quite worried about my inexperience. It felt like everyone around me had been coding for years, and I would never catch up.
“Joining my university's Women in Tech Society
and building a support network
kept me feeling like I had a place in tech”
At that time, joining my university's Women in Tech Society and building a support network kept me feeling like I had a place in tech. I would strongly encourage any minority in tech to seek out similar groups. When you are feeling out of place and insecure, having supportive friends and role models from a similar background can be the difference between surviving and thriving.
Q. Tell us about a rad piece of code that you’ve written? What piece of code are you most proud of in your career so far?
The piece of code the first comes to mind is actually written in Scratch! The kids at my Code Club were learning about Gap Filler projects (pieces of street art erected to fill the 'gaps' in the Christchurch rebuild). Their teacher was keen to use that learning in Scratch project, so I made an example game involving a maze filled with art installations. The kids used my game as a base for their own educational Gap Filler game. It was an exciting way to show off their knowledge, and I loved seeing them realise that coding can be used in all sorts of contexts. Programming often doesn’t happen in an isolated domain – the really cool stuff happens when code is used in combination with another goal or passion.
Q. What big dreams do you have as a coder? What are you aspiring to do next?
Last year I was heavily involved in Verizon Connect’s pilot Social Impact Programme, where employees were spread across local Code Clubs. Helping to move that initiative from a pilot to a sustained programme is a big focus for me right now. There are a lot of potential volunteers in the workforce that don’t realise how much they could be getting out of joining a Code Cub, and workplace programmes are one way to get them involved.
More volunteers and clubs means more kids reached, which is a big drive for me. It’s scary to think that my introduction to computer science was dependent on a coin flip. I’d like for everyone in New Zealand to have exposure to coding growing up, so that discovering it’s something they have a passion for isn’t left to chance.