Sandra’s Story – Why learning to code is not just for kids

25th June 2017

Sandra is 54 and attended an Autism-Friendly Codex Coding Course (20th – 24th February 2017). She wrote about her experiences for National Coding Week in the hope that it might inspire others of any age or with any barriers to try their hand at learning to code.

Sandra’s Story in her own words

I admit that prior to the start of the five-day coding course I’d had doubts about how much I could realistically expect to achieve. At the age of 54 I was the oldest attendee by quite a margin. My existing computer skills were varied and reasonably good, but almost entirely self-taught. By the end of the week though, in addition to learning some useful coding skills, I also learnt that age – and indeed having Asperger’s Syndrome – are certainly not barriers to learning something entirely new. In fact, Asperger’s Syndrome may well bring some valuable assets when it comes to learning something like coding.

“I also learnt that age – and indeed having Asperger’s Syndrome – are certainly not barriers to learning something entirely new.”

In order to start using coding languages we needed to begin by downloading a Text Editor to our laptops. The one we used is called Sublime. Day one of the course was about learning the basics of a coding language called HTML (Hyper-Text Markup Language). This forms the structure of a web page, but without combining HTML with another coding language called CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) the web page would look bland, uninteresting, and text and images would not be arranged at all well on the page.

So, on the second day we learnt about CSS and how to use this in conjunction with HTML to produce something that looked much more like a proper web page. I was amazed at how, even at this early stage, we were able to produce basic pages that looked really pleasing.

Image of Code

My website project, featuring a made-up business.
Also showing some of the html coding used to create the web page.

By the middle of the week we’d starting working on our individual coding challenge, which was to build our very own modern industry standard website – with some guidance from our Tutors of course.

“The week was about so much more than learning coding skills, although that is a wonderful and useful skill in itself. It was about building confidence, learning to work together, making new discoveries and being inspired to believe in ourselves and to achieve.”

Although I was doing fine in terms of learning the coding itself, Asperger’s Syndrome did result in some difficulties along the way. On the fourth day I began to struggle with concentration issues, and was feeling the general effects of the social and sensory challenges associated with attending the course. I was feeling exhausted as result of being in a group situation, and from engaging in more social interactions than I usually would. Consequently I didn’t manage to produce a piece of work I was happy with, and began to doubt my ability to attend the final day.

However, with support and encouragement from Julia Watts (Services Manager, Autism Guernsey), I did manage to go in for the last day. I choose to work independently and started afresh on a new project. By lunchtime I had something I felt reasonably happy with.

 

In the afternoon all the projects were presented to a guest audience consisting of parents, friends and family members, representatives from Autism Guernsey, and Art Leadbeater our VIP guest without whom this course could not have happened. Art undertook a ten-hour truck reversathon in July 2016, reversing his truck around the island twice, to raise funds for Autism Guernsey. The money raised was used to fund the week-long coding course.

Seeing everyone’s work displayed on the screen and reflecting on how much we’d all achieved that week was very special. I’d personally started out with no knowledge of coding at all, but I finished the week with some great foundation coding skills, and I can now go on to develop these and build on these.

Receiving my Codex CPD certificate of completion was a proud moment, and the certificate represents various achievements on a personal level in addition to what I’ve learnt and discovered about coding.

The week was about so much more than learning coding skills, although that is a wonderful and useful skill in itself. It was about building confidence, learning to work together, making new discoveries, and being inspired to believe in ourselves and to achieve. This week was also about overcoming personal challenges, and each individual attendee’s challenges will have been different.

Attending general courses on any subject would bring many additional challenges due to having Asperger’s but for me this was an amazing opportunity to learn a new skill, and a chance to do so in a way I felt much more comfortable with.

Image of coding

Another area of my website, and a portion of the css coding.

Each evening during the week I took time to practice the things we’d been learning, and on some occasions I had a go at putting together a simple website page myself. Coding is a skill that requires lots and lots of practice, as well as the willingness to experiment and learn from errors (which are not a bad thing, they simply encourage you to figure out how to fix them and develop better skills in the process).

“Attending general courses on any subject would bring many additional challenges due to having Asperger’s but for me this was an amazing opportunity to learn a new skill, and a chance to do so in a way I felt much more comfortable with. “

I am naturally curious about how things (especially computers) work, and have a need to find out what they do and how to make them do what I want and need them to do. This course fuelled my curiosity about coding, and I now have the interest and desire to learn more. I am keen to find ways to continue my learning. I plan to do this using online courses initially, and our Tutors have provided details of some useful online resources.

I hope it might be possible to organise a coding club for those who attended the course and anyone else on the spectrum who has an interest in coding. This wouldn’t be about receiving tuition, but more about sharing ideas and problem solving as a group. Maybe one day it might be possible for Jonathan and Richard to return to Guernsey and facilitate a follow up course too.

Image of Richard, Sandra and Jonathan

From left to right: Richard, me (proudly holding my certificate), and Jonathan. On the TV screen behind us is my website project.

For now I would like to say a huge thank you to Jonathan Channing and Richard Rolfe, our inspirational course Tutors; Autism Guernsey for arranging the course, and for the support and encouragement the staff provided throughout the week; the Digital Greenhouse for providing a great venue and facilities; to Art Leadbeater for his amazing fundraising achievements; the Rotary Club; and to my parents and friends who encouraged me and took an interest in my coding progress.

Sandra J Robilliard

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National Coding Week 2017