My Software Carpentry work experience

Posted by s.hettrick on 18 September 2015 - 11:40am

By Jazib Askari, 6th form Student at Altrincham Grammar School for Girls, School’s Twitter feed.

My interest in computer science began when I realised how it acts as an integral part of my everyday life and shapes the world around me. Since I really enjoy studying Maths, I knew Computer Science would be the right path for me because both subjects require a systematic, lateral way of thinking.

In my first year of Sixth Form at Altrincham Grammar School for Girls I decided to undertake Computing as one of my A Level subjects and was surprised when I learned that only two other pupils had chosen it! In my Computing lessons I began learning Python and have gained considerable proficiency in the language. I was driven to constantly modify the code until I found the most efficient solution and enjoyed trying to find the most innovative ways of dealing with problems. Outside of school I decided to teach myself HTML and CSS and I loved to experiment by creating websites in website builders and turning them into my own work using HTML. 

After starting Junior Sixth, time flew by and soon exams dawned upon us. I realised that although we had gained a lot of practice in programming and theory during Computing lessons, there were no concisely written textbooks that the class could use to revise from outside of school. So, I decided to formulate my own textbook including all the information required for the OCR A Level Computing Specification. It took me quite a while to write and was quite a demanding project because I had to juggle school work with it as well. But I managed my time well, sent it off for editing and formatting and had it published on CreateSpace by Amazon and Lulu in April 2015.

I started looking for a work placement because I wanted to get a feel of what exactly a job in this field involves. Not only would a placement give me this opportunity but it would enable me to enhance my communication and computing skills which would be very useful in preparation for university. I was thus very pleased to be offered work experience in Professor Carole Goble’s group, the eScience Lab at the School of Computer Science, University of Manchester.

The first thing I noticed when I started my work experience was how willing everyone was to learn from and teach each other. I felt welcomed after a tour around the lab and got a feel of how everything works and everyone’s roles. I was then introduced to the Software Carpentry organisation by Dr Aleksandra Pawlik and Shoaib Sufi, my work experience supervisors. They informed me about how the website acts as a tool for helping people in various fields learn how to program which is extremely useful, especially if their work involves handling and manipulating large amounts of data. I was given the opportunity to create similar workshop material but focused on teaching A Level students the basics of Python instead. First I wrote out all my lessons and ensured they met the desired OCR specification criteria. In the process I had to learn the Git version control system and its commands and the Github online system. These allowed me to create files, navigate around directories, turn them into repositories and upload my workshop material. In addition to this I learnt Github Flavoured Markdown which further enhanced my computing skills. I used this to make my lessons more appealing to the reader by formatting the pages and reinforcing the reader's understanding of the text. In my opinion Github is an essential platform for not only managing software projects but also educating people collaboratively. It transforms the whole learning experience by introducing a more interactive way of sharing knowledge.

Overall I've had an incredible time here. I've learnt a lot, not just about programming but about being resilient and not stopping until you've found the solutions to your problem. I think the experience has really benefitted me by reinforcing my confidence in programming and giving me the satisfaction that I can educate others about Computing. In addition I think that the Software Carpentry workshops are a brilliant idea because computational knowledge is required in almost every field of work, and such material can help people enhance their technical skills.

In the future I hope to read Computer Science at University. I have a real thirst for knowledge, especially when it comes to programming and really enjoyed learning new languages and putting my skills into practice. With regards to my Python workshop material I plan to add more advanced lessons for students who have grasped the basics as well as create workshop material about HTML and CSS. I also plan to learn a wider range of languages, such as Java.

If you’re thinking of applying for a Computer Science course at University, A Level Computing is not essential as not all schools provide it. However, I would advise students to consider it an option (if it is available) because it gives you a great headstart into the world of Computing and you get to develop a proficiency in a programming language and learn about how computer systems actually function in great depth. I would also definitely recommend looking for work experience before applying to University or other Computing related courses. Although it may only provide an insight into a particular type of job in the field, it gives you the chance to develop lots of skills which will help you in later life.

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