My mother's first Arduino project.

February 26th, 2014, 3pm

A year and half ago (give or take a month) I moved back to San Francisco. I told my friends it was for the job: a way of slipping into tech without any obvious qualifications. Something about a gold rush. But it was in equal measure a move about family. My mother lives in the halo of suburb around the Bay. I’m an only child. We are close. This comes with a certain responsibility.

When I took the job, she was skeptical. You can barely turn on a computer. I told her I’d learned to code exactly enough to understand the new company’s API and very weakly use it. She didn’t know what an API was, but she wasn’t about to let me unseat her as most-technical-member-of-the-family. So she started to code, too.

I stopped. She didn’t. She inhales Coursera classes, building games and databases and mobile apps. She has very strong opinions about her MOOC professors. In 18 months, my mother, the teacher and movement therapist, has learned enough to prototype (and more) in three languages. I’m pretty sure she’d make me take it down if I put her age on the internet, but let’s just say she was in her late thirties when I was born, and I’m very well into my twenties now. My mother is amazing. (And maybe slightly intimidating. I really hope I got these genes.)

A few weeks ago, she told me this straightforward coding wasn’t enough. She wanted to see her programs actually do something in the real world: she knew I was exploring open source hardware and demanded I get her up to speed. We stopped by a Radioshack that day for an Arduino book and kit. She had it merrily blinking less than a day later. The next week, she produced it with a flourish as we sat down for brunch, eagerly explaining her ideas for devices that would help seniors in assisted living facilities receive better care. (By day, she works mostly with seniors affected by Alzheimer’s.)

All this to say: let no one ever tell you that programming is beyond Baby Boomers (or anyone else, for that matter.) They are wrong.

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Zoelle Egner

Digital literature. Alternate reality games. Science fiction. Cocktails. Octopuses. Excessive pondering. By day I do the technology thing. (Sometimes by night, too.)

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