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Steve Jobs’ Biggest Fan MAG
It’s time for me to buckle down and get a job somewhere. Of course, it’s unlikely that any high-tech company in the Bay Area would want to hire a high school student who barely knows how to plug a formula in, much less code the way to the future, but dedication goes a long way. My family and I, we’re pretty dedicated to the tech industry.
Our one destination, no matter where we go, is the Apple store. Despite the fact that the stores are the same everywhere, there’s just something enthralling about stepping into the future. And when employees ask us where we’re from, we say, with the hint of a smirk, “Oh, Silicon Valley.”
I joined Girls Who Code – a national nonprofit that seeks to get girls into computer science fields – in hopes of learning my father’s trade – engineering – but ultimately to follow in the footsteps of Steve Jobs, the idol of every teenager in the Bay Area. I felt a special connection to Jobs. He was introverted, liked reading, was a bit of an outsider – just like me.
Our first activity in Girls Who Code was a test to determine what we knew. “What is a loop?” My answer: a geometric spiral shape. “What does the function “run program” do?” It runs the program. I wasn’t surprised to find that I had scored in the lowest level: Level Zero. I had, however, managed to get some answers partially correct. Debugging, I’d said, was getting rid of the bug. Whoop-de-doo.
As time passed, the process of coding didn’t become any clearer for me. I couldn’t tell the difference between a string and a function, but most importantly, I didn’t want to. If this was the future, I wanted no part of it. I’d stick to classic novels and literature, thank you. My inability to get with the program, both figuratively and literally, caused my club advisor to notice me. Mrs. Sun, a Chinese immigrant, had offspring who were the epitome of “the best of both worlds.” Her daughter had majored in English and Writing at Stanford; her son had majored in Computer Science at UC Berkeley. If both were combined, the end product would be greater than Steve Jobs – of that I was sure.
“You’re the writer, aren’t you?” she’d said. I didn’t see why that was relevant, but I nodded dubiously, and she sat down and looked over my “program.” “I see,” she mused.
I wanted to laugh. See what? That I’m a failure at coding? That I’ll never be Steve Jobs? Congratulations.
Valerie the Coder. Bleep. Does not compute.
“Think of it this way,” said Mrs. Sun suddenly, breaking the silence. She moved the cursor over my lines of code. “These are your sentences. They will finish your book.” She moved on to the conditionals. “These are the actions your character will do under the different conditions.” And then the algorithms: “These are the steps your character will take to achieve his or her goal.” I began to see it; the computer was its own character, and it needed to be told what was going to happen in the book. The settings could be created, and so could everything else, but it needed me to provide the plot, to write the story. That, I thought, I can do.
“So, you see,” Mrs. Sun finished, “coding is like writing. Both take time, practice. Write when you code. Code when you write. You will get better. I promise.”
I decided to take her advice and started coding after writing, writing before coding. Lines of code became sentences. Bugs became cases of misplaced modifiers. Servers were settings that made the plot possible. It was easier, I found, to imagine everything as something that would fit together, rather than separate formulas and functions. And though I still wasn’t good at coding, I started improving both in the way I perceived the world and in my writing ability. I didn’t have to be long and beautiful; I could be short and concise, like a command – Steve Jobs was good at those.
The next time Mrs. Sun looked over my program, she didn’t see lines of errors and a non-functioning box of blank. She saw a cartoon man standing on a stage, dancing endlessly (courtesy of the loop), saying, “Dance!” every five seconds. It wasn’t much, but it was a start. She nodded. “Nice story,” she said. I took it to heart.
So, dear Steve Jobs, I’d like to say something to you. My family and I, we’ll always be your biggest fans. That’s the kind of dedication you inherit when raised in Silicon Valley. But my experiences in trying to follow in your footsteps have taught me something: I’m not you, and I don’t mind (much). I want to be a part of the future you foresaw, but I’ll do it my way.
For a high school student like me with no knowledge of plugging in formulas and coding the way to the future, it’s difficult to find a job here in the Bay. I have the best of both worlds, though, and a whole lot of dedication. So, my dearest Silicon Valley, I have a story, too. Run it. See if it works.