Finnish programmer Linda Liukas had a major crush on Al Gore as a teenager. She wanted to share her passion for the then-vice president with a fan page. She didn’t have the pre-made templates that Tumblr and WordPress now place at our fingertips so built a site from scratch by teaching herself HTML and CSS.
While building that website, Liukas fell in love with coding. A decade later, she created Hello Ruby.
The Kickstarter-funded book, which aims to teach programming principles to children, reached its $10,000 funding goal within hours of its launch, and 24 hours later had amassed $100,000 in donations. The project hit the $200,000 benchmark Jan. 28, with 24 days to go in the campaign.
“This is a book to get kids excited about technology and affect the way they perceive technology as they grow up,” she says.
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The world of programming, Liukas tells ImpactLab, is perceived as cold, logical and machine-based. But Liukas feels quite differently. She sees in the coding world a universe of creativity and playfulness beyond ones and zeroes.
Liukas is a cofounder of Rails Girls, a non-profit that seeks to make programming and technology skills more available to young women. She also spent three years teaching coding with Codecademy.
Hello Ruby is designed for children between the ages of four and seven. With it, Liukas hopes kids will learn the basics of various programming languages and operating systems, while engaging with a whimsical narrative and a strong female protagonist in the vein of Pippi Longstocking and Madeline — characters Liukas loved as a child.
Hello Ruby, as Liukas envisions it, is a classic adventure story: Ruby, a clever and mischievous little girl with a mop of red hair, loses her prized collection of magical gems and must embark on a journey to retrieve them. Along the way, she joins forces with a lonely snow leopard, a crew of chatty androids, a firefox who throws parties and a wise penguin.
“We forget that these narratives are very powerful ways of learning in early childhood,” Liukas says. “There are lots of things we can teach [children] about the programming world before they even open the computer. I imagine a father and his little girl reading this as a bedtime story.”
Liukas first invented Ruby’s character when she began to learn coding — she doodled the cheerful little girl in the margins of her notebooks. “Whenever I ran into a problem, I thought, ‘How would Ruby handle this?'” she says.
In addition to foundational knowledge structures, such as sequences, variables, loops, conditionals and operators, the book will provide an understanding of software culture and encourage children to approach programming with a sense of creativity and what Liukas calls a “DIY attitude.”
Naturally, children won’t emerge from the reading as expert programmers, but Liukas hopes the books will instill a sense of wonder and playfulness when thinking about coding.
With the funding increase, Liukas says she can devote her full time to bringing the book to life. She has also added “stretch goals” to the Kickstarter project. If she receives $250,000 in funding — which seems likely — she will add a third book to the mix, a manual to help parents guide their children through the Hello Ruby workbook. With $500,000, Liukas will turn Hello Ruby into a mobile app.
“I never imagined this many people would be so supportive,” she says. “I intend to take the community on a ride.”