Dare to try!

By Anna Senarclens de Grancy

Anna Senarclens de Grancy

Anna Senarclens de Grancy

Do you know the story of an important job to be done, where everybody was sure that somebody would do it? In the end, everybody blamed somebody when nobody did what anybody could have done.

This is my story of how I did what anybody could have done but not everybody would. I dared to try something new and found out that with a little bit of guts, some luck and support from people like Systers you can do almost anything.

Ever since watching me deal with multiple remote controls better than most adults at the age of two my mum realized I’d likely become an engineer. Later on I confirmed her beliefs visiting a technical upper secondary school followed by a technical university.
After some time in college I had to pick what field of engineering to pursue. I studied together with my boyfriend at the time and after taking an introductory course to programming in ADA together, he told me there was no way I could do CS. I took this quite hard since, even though I wasn’t very good at it, programming had been a lot of fun. As a result, I decided to pick mechanical engineering. Which means that I’m not a computer scientist. Long story short, we broke up and I met a new guy, a computer geek passionate about Open Source Software. Inspired and now supported I realized I wanted to give CS a second chance, this time as a hobby. I got some books on Python and began learning on my own in the evenings and during weekends. Learning from a book is all fine but there is only so much one can do before one wants a challenge and to try something out for real. At least that was the case for me.

I got the suggestion to check out Google Summer of Code which I did and for the first time encountered Systers. Fascinated by their mission and offering a project in Python for beginners I took a shot and got very, very lucky. I had never really done any programming for real before, nor had I experience with data bases or distributed revision control. My Python knowledge was mainly from books with try it out yourself examples in them and I didn’t even study computer science. I had a lot to learn but you can hardly imagine how much fun I had doing it! I dared myself to try and ended up having the summer of my life. Sure there were hard times trying to understand the code, what to do and how to do it. In my ignorance I changed, moved and removed enough things on my computer to have to re-install Ubuntu three times and reinstalled Mailman probably five or six times. I had sleepless nights sitting in front of the computer coding and when I slept I dreamed of bugs. I added what seemed like a million debug statements and often got nonsense out of it (at that time I didn’t know how to use a debugger).

Once I solved my first bug and got the taste of success and the feeling of, I might actually be able to do this, I was hooked. So much fun! Such great feedback from Systers, always friendly, patient and willing to help answer my questions. Such an ego-boost when you solve that one problem you’ve been working on for days, maybe weeks. Not that it was really hard work, basically anybody could have done it and certainly many could have made it better and faster than me. Still, I dared to try something new and ended up learning so much and having a great time while doing so. I lived the dream and got to know amazing people while doing it. The only thing it took was to take a first step.

Have you ever considered how easy it might be fixing a bug in your favorite Open Source Software program? I encourage each of you to give it a try!

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