I’m a Praxis fellow this year and a PhD student in Spanish. (You might also remember me as the one who really loves public writing; you’re going to be reading a lot of blog posts from me this year.) And I’m a coder, apparently.
Some background on that last bit. To start off our inaugural CodeLab session earlier this week, the Praxis fellows and the Scholars’ Lab staff went around the room answering a question that seems easy: what’s your technical background? I said I basically didn’t have any, that I got myself into digital-ish positions by virtue of being the person in the room willing to click around the longest and figure it out. In part, that’s true—and patience is a skill that I don’t take for granted!
But near the end of the session, as our fearless leaders Zoe and Shane officially proclaimed us coders (“so now you can stop worrying about whether or not you count yet”), I started to realize I hadn’t really given myself credit for what I bring to the table. I’m lucky enough not to have really faced that infamous beast known as “impostor syndrome” in my grad school career thus far, so I didn’t see it coming. Nevertheless, sitting there surrounded by actual developers who do this for a living…I was feeling it. (This despite having been working on a collaborative text-analysis project at UVa that I presented at a real live DH conference that real live DH people said was interesting!)
In honor of the very official proclamation, I thought back on what I know how to do that I was scared to “count” as real digital knowledge and want to bring to this program going forward.
- Annoyed-user HTML: you know when you’re trying to make a thing on the internet, and the platform you’re using is free so you can’t complain, but the very simple thing you want isn’t built in so you groan and click “source” to examine the HTML only to see endless <span> and <div> tags that are out to personally ruin your life?! I have now come to understand that the years of fandom-tumblr-theme-tweaking and tinyletter-wysiwyg-fighting that got me messing with HTML by trial and error were incredibly valuable. So maybe I can’t build a website from bottom-up (yet), but I can look at what’s gone before me and figure out how to build on it a little. Apparently that’s a good thing.
- I-guess-I’m-the-website-manager-now patience: you know when your boss asks you if you know how to do something and you lie yes and then you google it and then you’re the expert forever and ever amen? This is the story of how I spent way too much time on the back end of the inexplicably-custom CMS of the website of every organization I’ve ever worked or volunteered for, and now I have a pretty good idea of what WordPress and Drupal do. So maybe I don’t have a profound understanding of these tools (yet), but I can translate between frustrated web developers and money-having executives who don’t know what they want. Encouraging idea-havers and tool-knowers to match their skillsets is a good value to bring to this program.
- Language-instructor enthusiasm: you know when you have to knock out your language requirement so you pick Spanish because whatever you had it in high school so hopefully it doesn’t completely ruin your first-year GPA? Yeah, I teach that. It’s pretty much my job to make group work on a subject of unknown interest into a productive experience for everyone involved. So maybe our project this year and everyone’s interest in it is unclear right now, but I’m in a good position to channel that willingness to get hype about anything—and to sow seeds of that excitement in others.
- Makerspace attitude: you know when you have to fix a 3D printer basically once a week because those things are the finickiest invention of all time? No? Just me? Well, working in the Makerspace last year, I got really comfortable with patient troubleshooting, trying new things, and most importantly, asking for help. That last one doesn’t come easy for me, but it’s going to be important heading into this year. So maybe I’m willing to play around—but I’m also committed to knowing my limits and taking advantage of the institutional knowledge and life experience of the experts around me.
In the coming weeks, our Praxis cohort will be developing a charter to set down the values and goals that will guide us in our collaboration this year. I’m hoping that the skills and values I’ve uncovered in my individual reflection will prepare me to build up a similar confidence in my collaborators. In that spirit, we’ll start from a place of honesty and openness, valuing everything we bring to the table—whether they’re skills we see in ourselves or skills we see in each other.