/r/explainmelikeimfive — talking about programming to kids

If you are someone that regularly uses the internet, you have probably come across Reddit and the subreddit called /r/explainmelikeimfive. Here, people ask questions and others can answer them in very simple words, like there are explaining to a 5-year-old.

As part of the Women’s International Day initiatives @ XING, led by the amazing lauragrau, we, a group of female software engineers went to a school to talk with kids about what it's like to be a programmer and what we do in our day to day life. This is even challenging to explain to adults that are not in the tech area, so I was very nervous about how this was going to turn out.

Ages ranged from 4 to 12 years old and they had amazing questions and comments that really make you think how smart these kids are.

The first day we started with the younger ones, the 4–6-year-olds, in the beginning, we wanted to talk about what a computer is and its components and later on what we can do with them.

4-6 year olds wanted to know if I was a hacker and if I used the cloud to store my photos. Also, they didn’t like computer viruses because they are bad like coronavirus, and concluded that facemasks where the equivalent to an anti-virus.

alt: a GIF of a woman mimicking typing and saying “we are in” to represent me as a hacker

Most of them already knew what I was talking about, but they were excited about asking me questions. We did an activity to show how an if-then-else works, kind of like Simon says so they had to define a condition and perform an action based on it. Simply, as the programmer one of them would touch their nose, and the computers (the rest of the class) would have to raise their hands in the air, but only if the nose was touched by the programmer. They immediately understood they didn’t have to do anything if the programmer didn’t touch their nose.

On the second day, we moved to 7–9-year-olds who were definitely more aware of programming. They were very excited to know they could use programming to build robots and solve problems but most importantly: make videogames like among us and Fortnite.

7–9-year-olds already knew programming was about doing stuff with computers and videogames so they wanted to know how they can build GTA6. They also learnt the words algorithm and prototyping.

For them we did a Design Thinking activity, based on the Design Thinking Challenge for Kids, consisting of them trying to put themselves in the shoes of someone else, brainstorm with ideas, offer a creative solution, prototype it and test it. They really enjoyed the activity, and we did the same for 10–12-year-olds. Most of them chose to offer a creative solution to a friend and their ideas were awesome. I asked them in the end what they liked about this exercise and their answers were in the lines of “solving problems in a creative way”, “using our brains to understand what someone else’s needs are” and so on…and then before I left them I asked them if they had any other questions for me

10–12-year-olds wanted to know what motivated me to become a software engineer, what the deep web was, what was the meaning of the “https://” part in the websites and if the salary was good. They were also disappointed they were not going to learn how to make a website in this 20 minute talk with me.

In general, they all blew my mind.

alt: a GIF of Phoebe from the TV show Friends acting surprised and mind blown.

I know I’m not the first one to realise this, but given that my contact with kids is almost nonexistent, I realised how incredibly creative they are, how they have no filter whatsoever and most importantly how you should not underestimate them and not try to explain things to them like they are five. 😅

alt: a photo taken from the back of the classroom of myself explaining the Design Thinking activity to a group of ~15 kids

Software Engineer @ XING. Let’s see how this goes…

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