My second piece of advice is to start tinkering with technology via self-directed learning.
What can you learn on your own? What hobbies can you take up? Learning a skill is really empowering. There are so many ways to get started with technology with low-barriers to entry:
- Raspberry Pi – a credit card sized computer you can buy for under $100
- Computer Aided Design (CAD) programs like TinkerCAD
- Modding video games
- Set up your own smart home
- Dig into the file systems of Open Source Software
- Coding websites
Coding websites is how I started. I built my first website when I was 10 years old – it was hosted on Geocities and was about the original 151 Pokemon. Learning how to build a website is something anyone with a machine and an internet connection can do, at really low cost or free with information you can learn from the internet. And there’s a lot of power in knowing the inner workings of something you use every day.
Learn how to Code the Web
To start learning the web, you start with the basic languages of the web – HTML and CSS. HTML is the standard markup language for Web pages – HTML elements are the building blocks of web pages. CSS is a styling language, which describes how HTML elements are to be displayed. These are great languages to start with because you can get started within about 10 minutes and start seeing results.
Want to get started super quickly? Download a starter website package.
There are many ways to start learning coding for free or very low cost. This list just scratches the surface:
- W3 schools
- Lynda.com (which you can access at South Australian public libraries for free)
- Free Code Camp
- Explore Open Source Software projects on GitHub
Open Source Software
Open Source is a philosophy whereby software source code is distributed for free, allowing anyone to download, use and modify the software, for any purpose. Open Source Software is often massively collaborative, with communities who use the software contributing back to it in order to make it better for everyone (17).
I really cut my teeth in programming by ‘hacking’ into the open source software WordPress, which is a content management system based on PHP and MySQL used to build dynamic web publishing applications.
When I was putting this talk together, I was so overwhelmed with ideas – there is so much I am passionate about in this area. I was sitting at my desk with so many sticky notes and mind maps and I felt really overwhelmed. I thought to myself, “how would a software developer solve this problem?” and my answer was, “put my ideas in a database and use a dynamic front end to analyse it and find the relationships – I’ll build a WordPress site”.
So, I set up a PHP server and installed an instance of WordPress on my machine. Every idea I had, every sticky note, I added as an individual ‘post’ in my WordPress dashboard. I started developing the content of the posts, and adding links and images. I added keyword tags, and created queries of tag groups to find the most relevant content, and to see logical groupings of my ideas. From there I built out the content, and that’s the content I used to form the basis of this talk, and the content here on this website. Information that not just you at this conference, but anyone with access to a computer and an internet connection can access.
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