Breaking Things Over Winter Break

It has been over a month (!) since my last post, but the long delay is certainly not due to lack of activity in the Praxis-Ivanhoe world. Our PM, Stephanie, has written a great post summing up the progress we’ve made as a group towards defining and building Ivanhoe. I’d like to underscore her point that, now that our roles within the team have started to crystallize, it feels like we’re finally all moving in the same direction.

During the weeks between Thanksgiving and the end of the semester, Wayne et al. presented us with some lessons in PHP and have now sent us off for the winter break with the task of practicing what we learned. Again. And again. And again.

And again.

And that is exactly what I’m doing this winter break. I am committing to memory the syntax of foreach loops and if…elseif…else statements, and I’m stumbling my way through the (rather entertaining) process of translating what I want to do into a logical flow my fatal-error-loving computer can comprehend. But to tell the truth, I’ve also spent an inordinate amount of time breaking things and banging my head on my keyboard (figuratively and, on more than one occasion, literally). And no matter how many times our Scholars’ Lab mentors say it’s okay to break a piece of code, a wave of panic overcomes me every time I do so. (Sample internal monologue: “Oh no! It’s the end of the world and my computer will self-destruct in 5 seconds! How could I forget that semicolon? Noooo!”)

Fumbling around with PHP has dredged up many of the anxieties which Francesca articulated in one of her posts, namely that I am so far behind on the learning curve that becoming adequately competent (and confident) with computer programming is beyond my reach. I suppose I knew that a magical panacea for my technophobia wouldn’t exist, and I even asked to work on the development side of Ivanhoe so that I would be forced to face my fears directly, but that hasn’t kept me from hoping to simply one day wake up and be okay with breaking things.

After a brief reflection on the nature of my programming anxiety, I did a few Google searches. What I found surprised me. Books such as Gender and Computers: Understanding the Digital Divide (2003), Gender Codes: Why Women are Leaving Computing (2011), Recoding Gender: Women’s Changing Participation in Computing (2012); articles such as “Caring About Connections: Gender and Computing” (1999), “Why So Few Women Enroll In Computing? Gender and Ethnic Differences in Students’ Perception” (2009), “The Effect of Tangible Artifacts, Gender and Subjective Technical Competence on Teaching Programming to Seventh Graders” (2010); long-term, multi-part studies on women in CS; clearly I need to think a bit more about the roots of my anxieties.

I’ll save the topic of gender and coding for another post. In the meantime, for the rest of winter break, you’ll find me breaking code, breaking down over broken code, and trying to break through some of my anxieties and insecurities about computer programming.

2013-14 Praxis Fellow and PhD Candidate in Classical Art & Archaeology working on South Italian Pottery and Vase-Painting. Indulges in reading sci-fi, petting cats, and eating chocolate.


  1. I should add that the gender and programming question is one that last year’s Praxis fellows have already thought quite a bit about. Specifically, I would like to highlight two posts by Claire Maiers and Cecilia Marquez, both of which generated a great deal of discussion (see comments on each).

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