Helping People Through Code

 

Homeschooling is more than academics. It also relates to work and service. Sally Lehman is our guest blog author today. She writes about service through technology and about considerations teens have to make regarding their career paths.

I spent a lot of my late teen years trying to figure out what I wanted to do. One of the most difficult things about deciding what you want to do is that it’s unlikely you’ve had personal experience getting to do what you think you might want to do, especially if it’s something that usually requires a lot of education.

What I knew for sure, although my career choices morphed as I read and experienced new things, was always that I wanted more than anything else to reduce the suffering of others, to be a useful person to society. That is what I know would make me happy and would keep me interested and challenged, and something I could dedicate my life to.

One thing I didn’t realize about helping people, however, is that it’s not just about non-profits, more accessible medicine or education, or giving money. Technology is huge. Technology has completely changed how we interact as a society and our quality of life. Most people on this earth now have access, in some manner, to a cell phone, and thus the rest of the world. We have much quicker access to information, and a ton more of it than generations before had. We can use this information to make smarter and wiser decisions about our lives and connect with people around us. We can make information and services available to people to make their quality of life better too.

Software development and technology fields are just as legitimate, if not more, of a field that does good for society, if you choose to use the skill you develop for that purpose, because of the ability of computer programs to reach and affect billions of people at a very low cost as compared to human organzations.

Understanding how to making programs and websites that almost anyone can use is not necessarily easy, however. There are tons of different programming languages and protocols (sets of rules that programmers agree upon so that their programs can talk to each other) to know, and you have to know what language to use when, how those languages talk to each other, and how computers use those languages to talk to each other. None of it is magic – it’s just a lot of little building blocks that make up bigger blocks, those make up bigger blocks, and so on. You can understand and manipulate, and make your own programs once you spend enough time, learning enough technologies and how they fit together.

If a homeschool student is interested in using code to build something that helps people, they should focus on learning how to build their own website by googling about it, or google ‘programming languages’, pick one, and find a tutorial online that helps them learn to use the language on their own computer. What language or technology they pick matters less than immersing them in the environment. It will be hard at first, but there are lots of common patterns. Encourage them to stick with it, talk to any programmer they can find about what they are learning and doing, and they will give your child a lot of power, and the ability to do enormous good.

 

Sally graduated from Walla Walla University in 2009 with a degree engineering. While a student at WWU she co-founded a chapter of Engineers Without Borders. She says: I now work for GitHub, a social coding website known for its heavy use by people that make free and ‘open source’ software. Open source software is accessible to people without money to buy expensive programs. Because so many people volunteer on these programs, they are often as good or better than the stuff you have to pay for. Our site is a place built specifically to show, talk about, and work on your code – open source or not, with other people. Some people call us ‘Tumblr for nerds’.