Being a girl in STEM

When I was 5 years old, my dad (a Geophysicist with an affinity for computer devices) would let me play “Hunt the Wumpus” on his calculator. His calculator was a very primitive version of the later graphics calculators, which eventually became PDAs, which eventually evolved into what is now a Smartphone. But back then, in the late 70’s, what I got was a digital display that could (revolutionary!) scroll text across block windows that made 8 look like two squares, so I’ll leave it to you to imagine what the font looked like for alphanumeric text that is scrolling. Programs were stored on a small magnetic strip that you pushed through a slot — I knew exactly how to get the “Hunt the Wumpus” strip, feed it through the reader, and then play a text based game that had me hunting around an imaginary maze trying to use the clues to figure out where the monster was before he ate me.

When I was 8, my dad decided that his children should learn how to use computers, because he very wisely foresaw that these were the way of the future. He got us a TI99/4a, and taught us how to program in BASIC on it. Also, how to touch type. I started writing my own programs right away — I wanted to make programs that were like my old favorite, “Hunt the Wumpus”. So I very quickly graduated from the “HELLO WORLD” program (though, at 8, it was probably more like, “HELLO BOOGER FACE”) to figuring out if/then statements. I remember the joy I had when I discovered how to use the GOTO statement to create a loop that could cycle me through the if/then statements until it came to the conclusion desired.

Continue reading