Julia Evans

Women in Technology workshop at PyData NYC

This year at PyData NYC, the lovely folks at NumFOCUS invited some of us Hacker Schoolers to run Python workshops for a group of high school girls from a few different high schools. They had varying amounts of programming experience, so we split them into beginner and advanced groups. We had a small army of volunteers from JP Morgan, which helped a ton.

Lea Albaugh, an amazing artist/designer/ seamstress/programmer human who I’ve been lucky enough to hang out with at Hacker School, led the beginner’s group. She taught basic concepts of programming (variables and conditionals) using Ren’Py, a Python-based tool for making story games. The students implemented interactive conversations, which they could add graphics and sound to later.

With the advanced group, I ran a workshop on how to use Python for data analysis. They all downloaded some open data about 311 calls from NYC open data and used it to explore questions like:

  • how many complaints there are in their ZIP code
  • which borough complains the most about rats
  • whether there are more complaints in parks or about helicopters

The girls did a fantastic job of exploring. We did a lot of exercises like “change the colour of the map to orange!” and “replace my zip code with your zip code!“, and they seemed to really enjoy seeing data from near their houses and comparing who had the most complaints in their neighborhood. In particular, one person found that someone had been complaining about “Unsanitary Pigeon Conditions” near their house.

The colour-changing was more exciting than I expected – they got pretty into investigating which colours matplotlib knew about, and were really impressed.

I tried to work more on making sure they had a good time than making them Learn the Maximum Amount of Things, and I think that went pretty well.

Here are the materials for the data analysis workshop.

After the workshop, there was a fun talk from Peter Wang of Continuum Analytics who demoed a really fun Python-based tool that he built that lets you visualize sound waves in real time. He then happened to mention that it looks especially awesome with violin music, and someone happened to have a violin, so they tried it!

Kate also talked about Riskee Ball, a fire arts project she worked on, and Katie demoed her Harry Potter text adventure.

After lunch, there was a panel! There was Celia La who makes educational technology, Olga Botvinnik, a PhD student in bioinformatics, my co-hacker-schooler Kat, and a couple of people from JP Morgan. It was really neat to hear about how everyone got started with programming – one person said she studied music and then started programming later, and someone else said she wanted to study music, but her parents made her do something more practical and she ended up enjoying programming :)

I am always amazed by how cool the programmer women I meet are. It was a fun time.

Thanks to Katie Silverio, Kate Murphy, Katerina Barone-Adesi, Karissa McKelvey, Olga Botvinnik, Rebecca Bainbridge, and all the volunteers from JP Morgan for all the help! And Leah Silen from NumFOCUS put all this together. =D