Making Software Programming a Creative Pursuit

MakeSchool and Dames Making Games are attracting a variety of people to coding by making it more fun, inclusive and purposeful.

Not much else is as singularly empowering and exasperating as programming. Just ask Ashu Desai.

“While you’re coding your brain is in a constant swing of emotions, a continuous cycle of frustration followed by gratification, lows followed by highs,” he said

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Desai is co-founder of an app-coding academy called MakeSchool.

“The actual coding process is an incredibly addictive aspect of coding. Every time you’re implementing a feature you run into a bug, and this creates frustration,” he said. “But sooner or later you find a solution to fix the bug, which turns out to be incredibly rewarding.”

Other veteran coders seeking to spread their addiction to the general public are on the same page.

“It’s always satisfying to be able to build something fun or interesting or useful, and to take an idea that’s in your head and make it concrete,” agrees Cecily Carver from the Toronto-based not-for-profit organization Dames Making Games, a feminist arts organization for women who make, play and change games.

But, said Carver, “Often, coding can be a frustrating experience of failing over and over, feeling lost, and having trouble figuring out how to proceed.”

Those blocks of frustration are often the biggest hurdle in getting newcomers to catch the coding bug. But Carver and her fellow “dames” keep at it, organizing public workshops, events and jams to help and inspire other women, especially beginners.


“A lot of what I try to do when I talk to new game makers is assure them that they’re not ‘bad at coding’ when they encounter difficult spots, and also emphasize that a lot of things go into making a game that aren’t about programming,” said Carver.

The general anxiety toward coding has plagued countless games and technology enthusiasts, who balk at the sight of a single binary phrase. Nothing can look more foreign than the language of computers.

The anxiety can be powerful enough to resurface old humiliations from grade school, like when math teachers made you feel incompetent instead of computers.

“Most people give up on learning programming before they get started because it’s viewed as a ‘hard’ subject like math and physics,” Desai says.

He goes on to reason that “while programming does involve logical and computational thinking, it’s really a creative pursuit. You’re able to build anything you can possibly imagine, whether it’s an app to solve a problem in your life or an interactive story you can share with others.”

But for many creative types, it remains nearly impossible to see past the logics language and into coding’s deeply human application. But with an equal focus on coding as both an attainable and highly creative vehicle, they’re finding some success.

At the MakeSchool academy, all courses begin with students recreating simple games, like one of the many Flappy Bird clones currently infesting the app store now.

“Once students see tangible results of their work they’re really inspired to continue,” Desai explains. “Suddenly programming changes from feeling like a hard discipline to feeling like a creative discipline.”

The MakeSchool learning process includes student cloning increasingly complicated games and learning the essential art of patience in the face of wave after wave of indefinite problems.

In only the second half of the course, students begin their own original project.

“The satisfaction and fulfillment of others finding value and joy in what you’ve created is the greatest feeling in the world,” said Desai

But at Dames Making Games, the audience and method varies. The organization opens their free events and workshops to all genders: whether female, male, or non-binary. The idea is to spark the addiction in anyone who wants — but is unsure about how — to start making games.

De-stigmatizing coding is a big aspect of tackling the accessibility issue at Dames Making Games, but Carver admits that she is “also wary of putting too much emphasis on coding as an empowering activity, to the exclusion of all the other things that women are doing in games.”

For too long she’s seen a divisive undercurrent in how people talk about contributors on creative digital projects.

“Masculine-associated skills (like coding) are highly valued, and feminine-associated skills (like writing and the arts) are devalued,” she said.

Carver sees coding as just another creative skill, like knowing how to draw or speak a second language or play an instrument.

“I want to see women who don’t code recognized as valuable contributors to games, too,” she said.

Programming and games in general, both organizations agree, are first and foremost for everyone.

Exclusivity in programming perpetuates the same misconceptions that keep women outside of tech, and programmers inside boxes they don’t feel fit who they are.

“Programmers are all imagined to be neck-bearded white men who live in their parents’ basements and play D&D,” said Desai. “But we’ve been teaching students how to build games for 3 years, and it’s increasingly obvious that programmers come in all shapes and sizes. Our alumni range from college football players to Juilliard musicians, and hail from 16 different countries.”


Worlds inside video games are as varied and colorful as the real world outside. As part of a larger look at diversity in our world, this series explores the talent behind and in front of the games people play.

Related Stories:
Cracking the Code for Getting Girls Into Tech
So You Want To Be a Pro Gamer: 8 Tips?
Making Workplace Diversity Match reality
Report Shows Maker Movement a Natural Entry for Girls, Women in Technology
Empowering the Next Generation of Women Scientists
Stoking Courage Among Women of the World
Turning Attention To Next Wave of Female Innovators
Something in the Air Turned Her on to Science


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