by Aurelia Moser
Often, we index our achievements in moments of time that told us who we were. The day I met Sara Chipps was a moment like that for me, one of those formative episodes that prefigures a lot of what followed in my programming life. I related to Sara in ways I never related to my technical colleagues or my grad school cohort, because she was a very feminine and fascinating programmer, one who commanded a respect and a competence that I felt I lacked. That relationship built a pretty fun friendship and inspired me to make code a considerable part of my work output and extracurricular projects.
The following interview features a few questions with Sara Chipps:
- What descriptor would you write on your Twitter or your Tombstone: a hacker, a tinkerer, a programmer, a role-model…? Or I guess, what role defines you most in your opinion?
Probably “student,” I am always learning new stuff, very energized by that.
- The Recompiler is all about engaging a more diverse populace in programming, systems, and cultural spaces for technology…how would you say your project and persona fit into that design?
Good question, the idea behind it is fostering a subculture that doesn’t exist right now; there are not a lot of tinkering tools for girls aimed at their interests. I think we’re trying to create world where tinkering is something that girls do to improve their toys and tools.
- What was your first foray into hardware programming, and what was the impetus?
- What is the Jewelbots origin story?
I just think that I wanted to make a tool for girls pointed at their interests to inspire then to start coding. Initially, I was going to make a bracelet that changed color to match their clothes. We interviewed girls at middle schools to see what was actually interesting to them, and it seemed that they thought that idea was dumb. Based on their feedback, they’re into friendships and communicating with their friends.
The first pilot and test objects for the project were part of a Nodebots Day hack: a ring that read Twitter sentiment. The project grew to support the research concept.
- Describe a bit of the Jewelbots approach to education.
Yeah, so we’re going into this with a hypothesis. When you get a Jewelbot you never have to code it, you can start communicating with your friends right away. Online, we post sample code and highlight showcase projects from girls making their Jewelbots more awesome, and then we inspire them to code more. It’s more like Minecraft, you progressively get 9-year-olds writing Java to make their Minecraft experience better and more engaging. And we’re trying to do the same thing.
- Was it related to your work with Nodebots?
Nodebots made me more comfortable with hardware, it was the first step. I made all the initial prototypes with Nodebots, it never would have happened without it.
- Is there anything about physical technology that makes coding more appealing to young women?
I think people really like the instant gratification, often learning to code programs (like Hopscotch has done this well), the difference between physical computing and machine programming, it’s more having and end-game or goal that you can see. When you can align it with a student’s goal, like making a game or changing their jewelry, they feel like they’ll have a unique thing at the end, something tangible.
- What do you most hope young women will take away from your products and their experience in coding?
I think our biggest hope is that girls can stop thinking of engineering as something that’s not for them. If it makes a bunch of engineers great, it’s more about making them feel less like passive consumers and more about makers and creators of technology that can change the landscape in the future, or influence its development.
- How did you build your company (in terms of testing and preliminary designs, and in terms of resources/people you employ to help you)?
I am really lucky to be able to work with people I’ve known before. For user testing, our mantra “this is something that we always do”, we’re not building a product for us, we’re building a product for people that aren’t us, so we depend on that interface to guide development of what we believe in.
- Any particular projects you’d like to showcase, or links you’d like us to include?
We just launched presales on our site, anyone who pre-orders now will be part of the first batch (part of the Kickstarter).
The design process for a website and product geared toward girls is interesting; our target demographic is 8-13 year-old girls. For the website, if you go to Seventeen Magazine or Teen Vogue, they’re all dark pink and green, it’s crazy. They’re doing research, they’re all doing the same thing, we decided to go with that too.
We picked the band colors because we liked them. Right now, we’re user testing the shape and style but then we’ll test colors!
- Name two products that inspire you.
Myspace and Minecraft—lots of noncoders taught themselves to make a product better
- Favorite super/comic hero[ine]?
- Choice mantra?
Given time, I’d think of something more timeless, but what comes to mind is a Jeff Atwood quote: “Suck a little less every day.”
- Greatest triumph?
- Greatest regret?
I try not to think that way; there’s nothing you can do about it, besides learn, and I’m all about learning.
Aurelia Moser is a creative coder in Brooklyn, New York. She makes maps and magic on the internet at Mozilla, co-coordinates the New York Chapter of Girl Develop It, and runs a radio show based on generative playlists and the semantic web. Find her @auremoser or http://algorhyth.ms/