Thursday, January 26, 2017

“I use Python to help build the kind of world I want to live in” - Shannon Turner, Community Service Award Winner Q4

Shannon Turner has been fascinated with programming since she was a child, thanks in part to her grandmother, who loved video games. Watching her grandmother play, Turner would draw pictures on paper and ask, 'Wouldn't this be cool if this were part of the game?". “Yes,” her grandmother would agree, “so you’ll need to get very good with computers if you want to make games of your own someday.” 

As an adult, Turner’s interest in programming grew. She taught herself to program and attended tech events but it didn't feel right. She grew frustrated at being one of the only women in the room, being talked down to, and not taken seriously. Then, after speaking with other women at the events, she would realize that it wasn’t just her, “...[that] we all had this shared experience of being talked down to and not taken seriously. That's when I decided to start teaching other women what I'd taught myself.” This is what motivated Turner to start Hear Me Code (HMC), a group that offers free, beginner-friendly coding classes for women in the Washington DC area.

The Python Software Foundation awards the 4th Quarter 2016 Community Service Award to Shannon Turner for her work on Hear Me Code:
RESOLVED, that the Python Software Foundation award the 4th Quarter 2016 Community Service Award to Shannon Turner. Shannon is the founder of Hear Me Code, an organization offering free, beginner-friendly Python coding classes for over 2000 women in Washington, DC. She teaches all the classes with the help of women who have previously taken the classes. She empowers hundreds of women to code with Python by lowering barriers to entry. More than just a class where women learn to build websites, Hear Me Code focuses on leadership development, peer mentoring, and turning students into teachers.

Hear Me Code

What started in 2013 as an informal class with a few friends seated at the kitchen table has grown to a group of over 2000 in the Washington DC area. Turner developed the curriculum, slides, and exercises for five lessons, making incremental changes and improvements each time she taught. In the beginning she taught all the classes herself, but quickly realized she would do even more good by helping her students become instructors themselves. To date, over 100 women who started as students have moved on to be teaching assistants and teachers in the group. “In our first two years,” says Turner, “over two dozen women credited Hear Me Code with providing them the skills and experience they needed to land a job in tech.”

At HMC, programming courses are taught with Python. Why Python? As Turner was teaching herself to code with a variety of languages, Python felt different. “I still struggled to learn it,” Turner recalls, “but it was much more intuitive than other languages I'd used.”

Helping Female Developers

HMC student Sonia Hinson started taking classes in January 2014. Since then she has completed most of the courses and moved on to being a teaching assistant and teacher. She says Turner encourages her students to become teachers by “promoting the idea that you learn best from teaching someone else programming and working with your neighbors to solve bugs and problems in code.”

Student Haynes Bunn would agree. She values Turner’s ability to identify people’s strengths and encourage students to get involved in teaching positions. By doing this, says Haynes, Turner is not just teaching women to code, “she’s also helping them to teach, to help others, and to be leaders.”

Turner would rather spend her time helping women through her networks than seek praise for all of her work. That’s not what motivates her, says Stephanie Nguyen, “her impact in the Python community and the women who she has empowered to code are all examples that speak loudly for her.”

Other Projects

“Now, in addition to running Hear Me Code,” says Turner, “I use Python to help build the kind of world I want to live in.” Some of her other projects include a visualization of 500 schools that aren't taking campus sexual assault seriously and a searchable database of 6000 museums across the US.

Shannon Turner, CSA Winner Q4
Turner lives in Washington DC with her pet bird, who she keeps tabs on with her Raspberry Pi.