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Whatever Happened to -- Ann Mei Chang?
2013-10-30 12:26
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STEM, ENTER, 1980s

Time for another editorial from ENTER Magazine. This one is dated September 1984:

{% img http://variousandsundry.com/cs/images/ann_mei_chang_small.jpg 'Ann Mei Chang, 1984.' %}

It's an article on teaching computer programming, written by a sixteen year old from Lincroft, NJ by the name of Ann Mei Chang.

I was 16 and an assistant instructor at National Computer Camp in Orange, Connecticut. The campers I was teaching were as old as 15. I was very nervous about getting up in front of them. What is they didn't understand anything I said? I'd be really disappointd if the class was a failure.

Natural worries there. Anybody who has taught anything has had that thought cross their mind.

I was teaching the group Assembler -- a fairly complex language that's used in serious programming. I was nervous, but I wasn't unprepared. After three years working with computers, and after spending two weeks at National the previous summer, I knew my subject, But would I be able to explain it to other kids?

Long story, short: yes, she could. She outlined three lessons she learned:

  1. Anyone can learn to program if he or she just tries.
  2. Girls are as good at computers as boys are.
  3. You've got to be willing to work if you're going to learn.

Let's see what she had to say on point two nearly thirty years ago:

While there were fewer girls than boys at National Computer Camp (the ratio was about five boys to one girl), those that I taught were every bit as good as the boys at programming. Three of the eight kids in my class were girls. These girls were just as quick to catch on to difficult concerpts as the boys were. Of course, that didn't surprise me.

Oh yes, I learned one other lesson. Teaching about computers is a lot harder than programming them. Computers only do what you tell them to. People are never that predictable.

So, whatever happened to Ann Mei Chang? She has the title of Chief Innovation Officer at Mercy Corps in San Francisco today. Before that, she spent time at Google, and was a Fellow at the U.S. Department of State on Global Women's Issues: "Among other projects, Ann Mei is looking at opportunities to leverage technology to improve the lives of women and girls around the world."

Here, she writes more about her early days with computers, playing Space Invaders, wanting to program her own game, etc. Just to bring it full circle, here's part of that history:

While I never developed a full-fledged video game, before I finished high school I went on to write a grading application for teachers at school, build a voice command interface demo at the local Army post, and teach at a computer summer camp.

She is, of course, also on Twitter.

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