https://pds.blog.parliament.uk/2018/02/23/to-codebar-or-not-to-codebar/

To codebar or not to codebar

Attendees at the recent PDS codebar event

I recently signed up for a codebar event held in the PDS office. My eight year old started talking about Scratch and Python and I figured she wasn’t talking about wildlife and their infestations. I thought I’d better find out what this coding malarkey is all about.

I'm a total novice except for some primitive HTML editing in the early days of the web. Back then, even my MSc in Information Science didn’t include anything about coding languages. How times have changed.

What if everyone's better than me?

I have to admit, I was a bit apprehensive. I could think of several good things that might come out of it:

  • learning something new is generally a good thing
  • being taken out of your comfort zone is no bad thing
  • I might really enjoy it
  • there would be sandwiches

These were outweighed in my mind by:

  • the knowledge that I’m not terribly mathematical
  • I quite like being stuck in my comfort zone
  • I might hate it
  • everyone might be better than me (points 3 and 4 are clearly related)

On the day, I found myself with four or five other PDS colleagues and about 40 willing learners from all walks of life. Codebar events aim to get under-represented groups into coding and it was great to see the balance tipped towards women.

There was a choice of tutorials to follow with expert guidance from a combination of PDS colleagues and regular codebar coaches. I chose to do some JavaScript as I thought it would build on the HTML knowledge I used to have. Equally, I could have picked Ruby, Python, or more advanced HTML.

Writing little blocks of code

Having loaded up on sandwiches, we were paired with a coach and let loose with code. A kindly chap from the John Lewis Partnership patiently guided me and another PDS attendee through the online tutorial, explaining what they were doing.

Two hours raced by and in that time we wrote little blocks of code that we were able to link together. Time was called at 9pm, just as I was about to test my code that would have calculated the number of weeks a given number of days equates to. I’m convinced it would have worked…

So what did I learn?

  • the mechanics of some basic JavaScript (obvs)
  • that you don’t need to be terribly mathematical to code as the computer does the maths for you. You just need to think in a certain way
  • codebar events provide a safe and friendly environment to learn
  • you get to meet a wide range of other people
  • I also have a better understanding of what a substantial part of PDS does. So when things break, I now know that it’s a complex task to fix as you have to read someone else’s code, understand it and make it better
  • the sandwiches were good and there were crisps too

I definitely will do more coding. Even if I don’t attend other codebar events. I can follow the online tutorials and intend to have a go at the other coding languages available. That way I’ll have a better idea what my eight year old is talking about and it's something to keep my brain ticking over.

Ideally, I’d like to build something practical and usable but I realise that as with any language, I have to start with the basics.

Back to “Bonjour, comment ca va? Ca va bien merci” and all that.

Read more about codebar on their website. 

Leave a comment