Is computing really as ‘alien’ as you think?

Rosie Elston explains how simple programming can actually be, even for the most non-IT literate

20-year-old Rosie Elston, from Newport Pagnell, volunteers at The National Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park, helping to run the shop and assisting visitors around the museum. As a fine art student with no previous knowledge of computing, she describes it as something very ‘alien’ to her. Here, she talks about trialling coding, and how accessible and simple programming can actually be, even for the most non-IT literate. 

From a young age, my knowledge of computers was pretty basic, with the exception of GCSE ICT. I never learnt computing at school, and as a fine art university student, computing is something I knew nothing about, which made it a little intimidating.

Looking back, I wish it had been a compulsory subject at school. Everyone should have a general understanding of computing and its history, particularly the younger generation as there seems to be a lack of knowing where computing has come from and how it has developed over the years. 

While I was volunteering, I had the opportunity to try out programming in FUZE BASIC on a FUZE microcomputer. Initially, I thought I’d never be able to work it out. However, it quickly became apparent that everything has been designed to aid users in learning and developing computing skills, regardless of whether they are super experienced or complete beginners like me.

After learning the basics, I felt that I had indeed made a big jump in my understanding of computers, programming and electronics’

The project workbook really highlighted just how accessible and simple programming can actually be. Where other computer manuals often cater for the more experienced, and neglect those of us who need help with the absolute basics, this uses simple language and visuals, helping me to see whether I was doing the correct things.

They say that we learn through our mistakes, and so I discovered that the best way to remember what each command does, was by following the series of intentional ‘mistakes’. It made me think more about what I was typing and why.

I did find myself overwhelmed at points as trying to code with little experience can prove tricky. I didn’t understand the purpose of it, making it seem slightly pointless and fuelling my frustration. With a little perseverance though, I was back on track and started to understand what I was doing and why.

Coding is often seen as a male-orientated subject or for techy ‘geeks’, and sometimes people can’t see how it relates to them, or how it can be applied to real life. However, when I started experimenting with coloured LEDs, I’d programmed an animation where as one light turned off, the next one would turn on; I soon realised the connection as it replicated a simple traffic light system.

ABOVE: Rosie thinks that everyone should have a general understanding of computing

Next came light dependent resistors (LDRs). These were introduced and explained within the workbook. The task allows you to use the LDRs with a program that gives a visual representation of how much light it’s picking up, using a circle that gets larger as more light is exposed. I found this particularly engaging and gained a further understanding of how everyday objects like burglar alarms work.

After learning the basics, I felt that I had indeed made a big jump in my understanding of computers, programming and electronics. I didn’t always get it right, but when I did, it showed me opportunities for programming that I hadn’t initially thought of and proved that both girls, and those studying unrelated subjects like me can learn to code! 

Even the most basic knowledge of computing can give you more confidence when using computers in general, and I can now apply the skills I’ve learned to future coursework or if, for example, I ever need to use design software in the future. The main thing I took away from the whole experience is that computing is really accessible; it isn’t just for geeks and can be used to create important systems, processes and applications. 

To find out more information about the FUZE, visit the website: www.fuze.co.uk