All posts by Alexandrea Beh

Knowledge Junkie, Avid Reader and Lover of all things puzzles and cats. Alexandrea is a Biology major and Computer Science/Music double minor at Pacific University. A self-starter who loves a challenge, her passion is developing tools that bring people together to learn.

3 Tips for Becoming a Better Programmer

Apple recently announced the release of Swift, a new programming language intended to make programming easier and more efficient than Objective C, the current language used for programming OS X and iOS devices. Some people wondered whether novice programmers should still bother learning Objective C (the consensus is pretty much a ‘yes’). At the same time, Apple’s announcement was a reminder that since technology is constantly changing, a savvy programmer never stops learning. Here are three habits you should adopt to help yourself become a more efficient, knowledgeable and well-rounded programmer.

1. Stay Informed

Read the headlines or articles from places that cover the area of technology you’re interested in – this could be a formal news outlet, someone’s blog, or a subreddit. Some general places to start are TechCrunch, CIO.com, PCWorld, The Next Web and of course, iGirl Tech News. For news about new programming languages, you can check out the Codecademy and Code School blogs. For news specifically related to women in technology, check out the Anita Borg Institute and also the National Center for Women in Technology (NCWIT). If you’re someone who knows about prominent companies, trends, and new developments, you’ll have a better sense of your field as a whole; you’ll know how those changes might affect you, and you’ll also be among the first to know about cool up-and-coming opportunities. I like to use Feedly to keep track of all my news – both its mobile and web versions are pretty great.

2. Don’t Just Memorize – Pay Attention to Patterns and Concepts

If you look through the job descriptions for programmers, software or web developers, you’ll quickly realize that you’ll need to know more than one programming language, but that it would also be hard to learn all of them. What to do? Many (but not all) programming languages share similar characteristics but use different words and syntax. Build a solid foundation in one language like C++, Java or Ruby, and pay attention to patterns and concepts like object-oriented programming and how logic statements work. Once you start learning another language, you won’t be starting from scratch if you look for transferable skills and concepts. You will also be better equipped to pick up new languages and platforms as they emerge.

3. Watch Out for Imposter Syndrome

This one applies especially to women and other minority groups in tech, and becomes more prevalent in high-achievers. If you have Imposter Syndrome, that means you tend to feel undeserving of your successes, and you feel like you owe much more of your accomplishments to luck or other people rather than yourself. More than just feeling like you don’t belong, you might worry that one day the people around you will realize you’re an ‘imposter’ or a ‘fake’. Don’t fall for this!

We all owe part of our circumstances to luck, and other people can certainly influence our lives, but that doesn’t mean that you are unworthy of the work you do. Give others credit where it is due, but don’t hold yourself back: take ownership of your own achievements.

Photo by: Ben W

There May Be Something There That Wasn’t There Before

Ah, but maybe it was there before and it just took a new perspective.

If you think you’ve got a pretty accurate worldview, watch this TedTalk and we’ll see. In 2007, Hans Rosling showed us that in a world filled with increasing amounts of data, we desperately needed to visualize that data in a new way.

As a pre-test, Rosling asked the following set of questions to a group of Swedish undergradute students who were studying global health:

Which country has the highest child mortality…

  • Sri Lanka or Turkey?

  • Poland or South Korea?

  • Malaysia or Russia?

  • Pakistan or Vietnam?

  • Thailand or South Africa?

If you’re still feeling pretty confident, then that’s great – I make it a habit to read the local and world news almost daily and felt like I had to make some second guesses, but didn’t feel like I’d be too far off. What’s more, Rosling reveals that each pair of countries was deliberately chosen so that one country would in reality have twice the child mortality rate of the other. Shouldn’t be that hard then.

I was right for 5 2 out of the 5 questions, and the Swedish students were just about as accurate. How come we were so wrong, and how does data visualization come into play? First go make yourself a nice cup of tea, then come back to watch Rosling’s TedTalk, see how well you scored and among other things, see how just profoundly the Internet has impacted our world.

Without spoiling the video (if you’re still reading this and you haven’t watched the TedTalk, go watch it! I’ll wait, it’s okay), what strikes me most is that much of the data presented was not new in any kind of raw sense. These changes throughout the world haven’t happened overnight, yet it took a new kind of data visualization – Rosling used Gapminder – to make these changes easy to notice and understand.

In what turned out to be an at-once fitting and ironic search, I attempted to find a Creative Commons licensed image on Flickr to accompany this article and met with little success. (Thank you, Tony, for finding an image!) Type in ‘data’ and you get generic tech pictures, creepy doll faces and Lieutenant Commander Data from Star Trek. Type in ‘data visualization’ and you get a plethora of complicated circles, rectangles and spikes. ‘Statistics graphics’ yields slightly better results, yet I became very aware that the way we typically represent data in charts and diagrams has not changed much over the years. Rosling’s TedTalk helped me reflect that maybe it really is time for us to upgrade the way we visually represent data. If I was feeling pretty confident about my answers to those five questions, how many other situations are there where my perspective is so skewed, and what would it take to see something new?

Looking Ahead

The term ‘big data’ is becoming a more prevalent topic in computer science as we collect more and more information about ourselves and the world around us. Since Rosling gave his talk in 2007, it has become even more necessary for people to create news tools that help us better understand all of this information and decide how to react to its implications. Something tells me that pie charts and scatter plots aren’t always going to cut it anymore.


Think you might be interested in a career in big data? Check out what contributors at Forbes and Computerworld have to say.

TechReads: Creative Intelligence

My friends and I like to good-naturedly lament that when we say we’re Computer Science students, the response is often inevitably, “Oh, great! Now I know who to go to when I need to fix my computer!” I can see why we get this response. The majority of people are users, not creators, of technology – and any time that technology needs troubleshooting, users turn to the “IT guy” or the “IT department” and this is probably the first experience that they associate with the words “Computer Science” (availability heuristic, anyone?).

Interestingly, the next top two variations of responses I tend to get are rather opposite:

  1. “That’s cool! Technology keeps changing so much; you could create some pretty neat things.”
  2. “Really? I don’t think I’d have much fun with a bunch of logic and rules.”

Yes, technology is constantly and rapidly changing. Yes, this means there are people who are driving that change. Yes, Computer Science is built on logic and there are rules. What’s the difference between someone who puts those facts together and thinks “Cool!” and someone who asks “Really?”

The difference is whether or not you realize that some of those rules and their uses are not set in stone – that you have the potential to make new rules, or use logic in a new way to come up with a friendlier user interface, a more efficient system, or a video game world where portal guns are definitely a thing and definitely under the category of “some pretty neat things”.

In the book Creative Intelligence, author Bruce Nussbaum explores our preconceived notions of what it means to be creative, how we can deliberately foster creativity and why creativity is a key skill which Nussbaum argues is essential to the development of the economy. Although Nussbaum writes about how creativity applies to a number of fields, many of his examples are technology-related.

My Top 5 Favorite Tech Examples in Creative Intelligence:
On Amazon: Creative Intelligence: Harnessing the Power to Create, Connect, and Inspire

  1. How did some of Apple’s earliest computer designs end up being inspired and solved by visiting a jelly bean factory?
  2. How has the recent surge in social media affected the way we engage with content, consuming versus creating it?
  3. What did a Portland, Oregon company do to help Lenovo create tech products that would appeal to its Chinese consumers and compete against foreign, better-known brands?
  4. How did ideas originally applied to create robots that could search for victims of disasters eventually lead to the development of the Roomba, the first vacuum-cleaning robot?
  5. How do games like Re-Mission, a video game for young cancer patients where the player wages battle against cancer cells, actually physically improve a patient’s health?

I would rate this book a 4 out of 5. I loved most of the examples and I find it rewarding and inspiring to explore how other people have found creative success. However, I am a little wary of believing that there is a set formula for creativity given its very nature.

Additionally, calling creativity a type of intelligence (Nussbaum also calls it “CQ”) still grates on the part of me that learned in Psychology class that there is no empirical evidence for any types of multiple intelligences. Granted, Nussbaum wrote this book mostly for a Business audience and not a Psychology one.

Overall though, this is the kind of springboard book that introduced me to new authors, ideas and companies that I would love to learn more about.

How do you use creativity in your work? What does creativity mean to you? Leave a comment below!


This article is the first of a series called TechReads, my new ongoing series of technology-related book reviews. If you would like to suggest a book for a future TechReads article, please leave a comment below – and if you’ve read Creative Intelligence, I’d love to hear what you think!

Image by Matt Katzenberger


creativeintbookOn Amazon: Creative Intelligence: Harnessing the Power to Create, Connect, and Inspire