Talking less, Doing More | BitchWhoCodes | Stacey Mulcahy - a Microsoft Technical Evangelist

Talking less, Doing More

Meet Amanda. She’s 16. She lives in Halifax, is good at math, hates spelling, and loves games. She is a child of Gamers – both her parents met playing online. She can talk level design, power ups, game narrative and consoles with the best of them.

I met Amanda at the CollideHalifax Conference. I have spoken at it since it started, and was there again to give a session. This year the conference sold out. This year they also had a bunch of students from a local high school attend. This year, they held a Women’s networking event which is how I met Amanda.

Amanda is not shy. She joined my table, and as I was showing some projects with Arduino, the discussion turned heavy. We started talking about the industry, about our struggles and successes, about being a woman in tech. I wanted to reach out and earmuff Amanda. I did not want her to hear this. I didn’t want to her to hear stories of sexual harassment or impending lawsuits. All I could think was “please let no one mention #gamergate”.

I did not want her to close a door that she had yet to open.

Amanda is not shy. She talked about how much she loved video games and you could tell by the way she spoke about it that it wasn’t a fleeting interest. She was a child of gaming. I asked her if she had ever made a game. She said no. I offered to teach her how to make a game.

She started to cry. She made me cry. I didn’t know why we were crying. Why were we crying? I had made a simple offer to show and share what I knew. It was up to her to take me up on it.

She did.

Over the course of the conference in a few hour spurts, I took Amanda from zero to game hero in Unity3d. She had little programming experience, mentioning that she had tried to learn JavaScript a little bit online. We made a Flappy bird clone – grabbed a spritesheet of ninjas from OpenGameArt.org, found some badass 8bit music, learned how to make a few graphics in Photoshop.

amanda3
I would show Amanda how to do something. I’d explain it along the way. Then I’d make her do it. Then the next day I’d pretty much delete all our progress and make her do it again without help before I taught her the next step. I’m pretty sure she thought I was crazy, but she was willing and she was able to quickly recreate the previous lesson’s progress.

She had to learn a little C#. I had no idea how I was going to explain OOP principles to someone who had no programming experience. I wasn’t sure I even had to. But I explained things the best I could without overthinking it. Ok. So you have a cat. What do all cats typically have in common? Ok. So you have a siamese cat. What makes it different? What else could be different about cats? Weight? Color? Etc. Ok, so I was able to explain the idea of classes, and properties and methods in a few minutes. We’d write a line of code, talk about it, write another, rinse and repeat.

When I didn’t know something, I’d look it up. And I’d explain what I was trying to search for, what type of language or phrases I might need. The hardest part about learning something new typically is understanding the taxonomy.

We created scenes. We created buttons. We created a player that had multiple animations and an animation controller. We added sound. We made prefabs and we wrote some game logic. She asked questions. Gave creative input. Made suggestions on things to add or improve.

People started to drop by and check our progress. A few people mentioned that they wish they could have sat in. People were excited for her, they wanted to celebrate her success like it was their own. The executive director of the Halifax Pop Explosion James Boyle dropped by one of our coding sessions and gave her a hoodie. She ended up scoring an internship with a local company that did application development. She was winning.

She asked about doing a portfolio. I told her to just blog her game progress. Do it for all her games. Post pics, videos. Share code. Share what she learned. Just use something she was already familiar with – Tumblr.

In about 6 hours over three days, Amanda made a game. Actually, she probably made it two or three times. She was a sponge. She soaked up everything I could give her. She walked away with a list of things she would have to learn on her own to make her game better and the motivation to actually do it.

I spent a couple of hours over a couple of days to make an impact and help someone. Maybe I changed her life. What she didn’t know, was that she was changing mine. She was a constant, living reminder of why it was important for me to be present. For me to be public. For me to be accessible. She needed to be able to see someone doing something she wanted to do and believe it could be her. Everyone needs that.

As I watched Amanda hook up her animation controller states, I saw something different in her. I saw determination. Confidence. I saw someone that wasn’t going to let the heavy stuff weigh her down. I saw someone who would pave their own path.

As small of a contribution as it was, I was happy to stop talking about a problem and start doing something about it, in the best way I knew how.

Friends, if this is our future generation of gamers, of developers, we are in good hands.

amanda1

Follow Amanda on Twitter. Maybe we together can encourage her to share her work.

PS > Video of her game Flappy Ninja

UPDATE:
After posting this, not just one, but two people from Adobe reached out to say they’d like to give Amanda a subscription to Creative Cloud. Thank you Adobe, for being so generous.

Filed under: Ramblings — Stacey @ 10:37 pm

  • jmpp

    That feeling when you teach someone what you do, and when you see he’s enjoying it!

    I liked this little story, and hope Amanda will grow up as a great game dev :)

  • Doug Schaefer

    Thanks Stacy so much for being an inspiration for Amanda and all women looking to get into tech. We have such a shortage of talent and need everyone who has the passion to be able to find their path unobstructed and to let their dreams come true. Everyone deserves that chance.

  • guest

    How great to have someone take the time and show an interest in her. I wish someone would have done that for me.

  • http://hitchbiking.meltan.ca/ Mel

    That’s so awesome. It brings back memories of so many people who helped me come to where I am. I was the only high school girl working at the Cisco conference and so many (male) comp sic and engineers were willing to talk to me about my career path and encouraged me. They didn’t spend as much time as you did, but I really appreciated it! There were also many others along the way, i.e. Shad Valley, that also helped.

  • Eduardo WB

    It is awesome to see more girls involved in tech and programming. Specially in the game field. I wish her a big success and hopefully we can see some of her titles on well-know markets around. Congratulations.

  • Brian Shirley

    This is fantastic. Thanks for taking the time to teach her. Thanks for taking the time to write about and share the experience with us. This is the kind of developer community that I want to be a part of.

  • LLK

    Yes yes YES! Thank you Stacey for taking the time to do this, and to share your experience. I’m inspired to do more.