Women who code: Nicky Ringland of Grok Learning

With more attention being focused on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths) in schools, it is important to see that girls in these areas have role models. So at Leaders in Heels, we’re having chats with female coders in Australia.

In this interview, we sat down with Nicky Ringland from Grok Learning, “a team of educators and software engineers who want to make coding fun for everyone”. Grok Learning is being used across schools in Australia and they have coding competitions starting on November 2nd. There are also support materials for teachers in the classroom, especially those who haven’t necessarily had a background in coding.

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Why do you love coding?

I love coding because I love creating things with code. I love being able to solve problems, answer questions and generally make cool things!

What do you dream of programming one day?

I’m really excited about building a personalised learning environment that adapts to how each student learns. Traditional methods of education haven’t substantially changed in hundreds of years: a teacher lectures at the front of a classroom, students learn and are assessed on a subject, and then the class moves on to the next topic.

Whether a student scores 100% or 50% on a test, they still move to the next topic. I want to use technology to make sure students can master a topic before moving on.

My start-up, Grok Learning, teaches thousands of students to code in an online environment. Students can work through materials at their own pace, and those who find a particular concept easy can work quickly and move on to the next.

Real personalisation would involve developing specific profiles for different types of students. These profiles would adapt to how quickly they learn a particular topic, what questions they like, etc. Overall, it would make learning in general more successful, and certainly a lot more fun!

What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced in the industry?

The biggest challenge for me was deciding which industry to be in! I’m just finishing my PhD. I do research in the field of Computational Linguistics – making computers better understand language. When I started my PhD, I considered becoming an academic, since I enjoy teaching and research. Academia is quite tough, though. The prospect of getting Post-doc positions (which last only a few years) in far off places is exciting, but it is particularly hard when you factor family (e.g. partner’s job) into the equation. Thankfully, I found a way I can combine my love of teaching and computer science into a career that I thoroughly enjoy.

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How have you overcome these challenges?

As I mentioned, forging ahead and making my own path, in this case, founding a start-up, let me continue to pursue my passions.

What would be one piece of advice you would give to girls/women wanting to code as a career path?

Get involved, ask questions, start small and think big. Computer science is the most versatile career around. From solving climate change, going to Mars, or curing cancer, coding is a critical skill as well as being a lot of fun!