The Wonderfully Whimsical World of Storytelling - with Linda Liukas
An engaging story can make the difference between just another class and a lifelong memory.
That's Child's Play!
This blog post was published to accompany an episode of Kide Science’s podcast, “That’s Child’s Play!” To hear more from Linda Liukas, author of Hello Ruby, listen to the podcast directly on this page or wherever you listen to your podcasts.
Kids, Computers, and Early Childhood in the UK
Education systems are different around the world - but we can strive to make them as good and effective as possible no matter where they're located.
How to Tell Engaging Stories
An engaging story can make the difference between "just another class" and a lifelong memory.
Do you ever see a group of children playing? They might be running around crazily, fighting dragons with swords or capturing their friends to put them in jail. Perhaps they are cooking lunch using sticks, leaves and mud. Or they could be building a fire station using logs and rope.
But are they really just playing?
Or are they building up some of the most exciting stories you can ever imagine? And through these stories, are they actually practicing real life problem solving by making the world more understandable?
According to Linda Liukas, author of Computer Science story book ‘Hello Ruby,’ “there is nothing as powerful as a story to learn something new. We humans learn about the world through narrative.“
Linda proved this when writing her children’s book; which breaks down difficult computational terminology into a story based context. She found that this was an area of the world which was almost untouched by storytelling, “No-one was really telling stories about the world of software. No one was telling us these types of stories so I decided to be that person.”
We are big believers in this as well.
So rather than standing back as a watcher simply observing the children’s storytelling, why not be like Linda and become a part of it? Why not embrace the power of a story to help teach them real life lessons in your classroom?
Here we have some tips for how you could become the most exciting storyteller; someone that your class wants to play with day after day:
So when you are reading a story...
- Try to keep an eye-contact with the listeners
- Use pictures to present the story characters
- Comment on the storyline with your own words
- Engage your listeners by asking questions and give them space to comment
- Use intonations and body language to match the emotional atmosphere of the story
If you are looking for some great examples of storytellers, have a look at
David Walliams Awful Auntie
Michael Rosen Going on a Bear hunt
Tom Hardy reading ‘There’s a Tiger in the garden’ by Lizzy Stewart
And, of course, we recommend Linda Liukas as an amazing storyteller: you can listen to her stories and get the full conversation within our podcast “That’s Child’s Play!’ This blog post was published to accompany an episode of Kide Science’s podcast, “That’s Child’s Play!” To hear more about creating compassionate human beings through play based learning and get the full conversation with Linda Liukas, listen to the podcast directly on this page or wherever you listen to your podcasts.
A transcript of the episode (generated by AI, so there are mistakes!):
Kids, Computers, and Early Childhood in the UK
Antonio Santiago: Children's books authors have a special place in society. In fact, most of us were raised on them as a child. Some of my favorite moments were gathering around the school librarian, listening to a story and looking in awe at the beautiful pictures that whisked the stories along. Hi folks. You're listening to "That's Child's Play" brought to you by Kide Science.
I'm your host, Antonio Santiago. And in today's episode, we are joined by Linda Liukas the author of Hello Ruby, books that were created to teach young children coding.
This was a great conversation that covered everything from storytelling to imagination, all the way to gaming. So without further ado, let's get into it.
When I think of Linda Liukas, I think of whimsy. Linda is a storyteller at heart. Almost every question I asked was answered with a fascinating anecdote, one that makes you really understand where she's coming from. It makes a lot of sense. Linda writes the Hello Ruby books, which are a series that follows the curious, fictional Ruby, as she navigates a world and solves problems, teaching children about computer science along the way.
Linda's first story to me was the story of how she even got into computer science in the first place.
Linda Liukas: I got into computer science headfirst, so I was seven or eight years old and my dad brought us home a computer. And this was in the early nineties. And my dad did a thing that had very profound impact on my future career.
He said that there's nothing you can do with a computer that can't be undone or fixed, which meant that for a kid of 1990s, I got a. Malleable relationship with a computer, meaning I destroyed the operating system a few times. I deleted his work files, but I also learned to re-install a system and set up backup devices and see a computer as pens and papers as a tool of self-expression as a way to solve problems. And it's an interesting 10, 15 years in the 1990s because the windows operating system was becoming more and more popular. There were more sort of these applications that you could use for word processing and games on computers. And it meant that this kind of open-ended spirit that had been.
In the computing scene in the seventies and eighties was coming to an end. So there's a lot of kids who were born in the nineties and are now in their thirties who have grown up with computers all their lives, but they are truly afraid of computers and technology because they grew up with this this like nice, shiny user interfaces, but they never had that fearlessness and curiosity I got as a kid.
Antonio Santiago: Despite teaching computer science to children around the world, Linda didn't actually study computer science in university. How did you end up getting into computing to begin with?
Linda Liukas: I think I found it for my own experience. I studied literature and business and economics and geography and all these other things. And then when I made the connection that, Hey, technology can be a kind of liberal arts, that it can be used as a tool of self-expression and problem solving.
I started to read books about it and the first programming language I was starting to teach myself was a language called Ruby on rails, which was a very popular programming framework from the early 2010. And I would feel completely frustrated and out of my, Comfort zone. And then I grasped to the only thing I recognized, which was a story. (Music) Ruby, the programming language is a language . Ruby on Rails framework uses in my head. She started to look like a little girl and I would start to make these little doodles in the margins of this computer science book, trying to explain to myself, what is object oriented programming or what is garbage collection or, all of these terms that are actually quite evocative. And there's a lot of like very visual language in the world of programming, like which other discipline has bugs and has all of this action happening in the vocabulary that is built in to it. And through this kind of effort of making this little doodles and almost like comic type things, I would start to share them on Tumblr,
and then people started to comment and notice and say that, Hey, like these really helped me understand how GIT works or how version controlling happens. So it was mainly first for grownups actually And then I started to notice that, Hey, there seems to be this vacuum that there is a lot of.
Parents who realize that software is really important on so many levels for the future of our world, that more and more professions require software skills and computer science at large is one of, these core disciplines. When we think about future proof skills and then there's this world of stories and narratives.
And no one was really telling stories about the world of software and stories in some ways are the original way we learn about ourselves. Learn about each other. And we learned about the world surrounding us. No one was really telling this story. So I decided to be that person.
Antonio Santiago: You started teaching adults with Ruby. That's incredible. So do you think that storytelling is also something that we as adults can use to learn new and difficult topics as well?
Linda Liukas: I think. There is no thing as powerful as a story to learn something new because we humans understand the world through narrative. And one thing I would just pay attention to is the kinds of shapes of stories we use, because especially when it comes to technology, there is this very recurrent story of this hard working often mathematically abled, often male genius, that solves problems on their own.
And. A very popular story because it's an easy story to understand. But I think we should really think about what kinds of meandering and spiraling and strolling stories. We can tell about the world and world of technology, especially. And I think one of the kind of metaphors I've used a lot is a
Metaphor for mushroom hunt that on a mushroom, your hunting or not looking for that one. Perfect mushroom. You're looking for many mushrooms and as you explore one mushroom, you start to notice more mushrooms around.
I think you'll learn in the Finnish forests that once you have the vocabulary to describe the world, once you have the ability to notice something, you start to spot patterns and you start to spot those narratives happening around you.
And unfortunately, a lot of the stories we tell about technology are of this very uniform pattern. So absolutely I would recommend anyone to look at the world through the eyes of a storyteller, but also pay attention to the kinds of stories.
Antonio Santiago: That mushroom hunt metaphor is so very, very finished. I love it. Linda's hello, Ruby books have been translated to over 22 different languages and that sparks the question have you found that something like imagination is universal, that children are responding to it in a similar manner across cultural lines?
Linda Liukas: It's really surprising how similar we are in the end. I would say. Especially, like they share nowadays, globally, so much through TikTok, through YouTube. It's harder for us grown ups to like really recognize how global children's culture just today is. But then how similar the parents also are like, whether it's parents from China or middle east or Finland or us, they all want their children to have better opportunities than they had, and all want to make sure that they are.
Like well-equipped for the future. And sometimes it becomes a little bit of ridiculous, meaning that before COVID I used to travel a lot and meet a lot of these parents and they would always ask has someone figured it out already? Does Finland have all the answers of how we are going to raise these future proof, resilient kids who understand technology, but also empathy and these human skills and the answer is absolutely no, like no, no one has really figured it out yet.
Very similar questions are other questions the parents are asking from one another. So it's really fascinating to see how similar the world is from one place to another.
Antonio Santiago: Yeah. Do you think that there is something to figure out like if storytelling has shown to be universally accepted? Is that the proverbial answer?
Linda Liukas: Yes and no, I think there's a multitude of answers. There's a multitude of different approaches. And I think storytelling has been historically underrepresented in toolbox. We used to teach technology but why no ways it is the only means. And even within storytelling, there's actually interesting nuances so coming from Finland and this kind of Scandinavian storytelling culture, I never realized how profoundly reading books like Moomin and I was failing grants, Pippi.
Longstockings how much that narrative has shaped my way of seeing the world, because especially. Western cultures have this very strong heroes narrative, this idea that like the lone hero goes and faces the unknown monsters and destroys them. And is the celebrated hero at the end, this kind of narrative that we all recognize, but then Scandinavian stories.
They make a little detour because often in Scandinavian stories, and I'm going to take Moomin as the example. A ragtag bunch of self appointed family members moving has like a core family but they also have this like very eclectic mix of friends and adopted family members. And they set out on a grand adventure.
But there's no domination. There's no grand heroes, narrative arc at the end. And at the end it's the mother who like makes pancakes for everyone. And there's this sense of joyful collaboration and coming together. And I never realized how. In some ways bland Scandinavian storytelling can be compared to the very dramatic arts of some and low American storytelling arcs.
But it's really fascinating to tell these kinds of stories and then I'm sure that there must exist different kinds of patterns and narratives for stories in Asian cultures, in some of the Aboriginal cultures and so forth. So I would be really. And maybe that's the answer to your question is that we need storytelling, but we need also different kinds of voices from different traditions of storytelling.
Because I think if we only have the one hero who saves the day, we will have very one minded solutions to the big problems we are seeing. And maybe looking at the world like a matsutake mushroom, maybe looking at the world I dunno, like a mountain would look at it will help us solve these big problems in the world.
Antonio Santiago: As an author, Linda has chosen to make hello, Ruby, a physical book without really offering an ebook. it's an interesting design decision. Considering the focus of topics of the books is about new media and new technologies. We talked a little bit about how she came to this.
Linda Liukas: I think we learned so much for our fingertips. That's one lesson. I think the world that is obsessed with screens and visual input is very much forgetting. I think one of the core things that we have lost is this understanding that especially in early childhood, we learn so much through your fingertips for touch. And it's weird to talk about this after a year when we've been forbidden to touch one another.
And the only thing that we've pretty much been touching is the the screen of our mobile phone. somehow like all language, it starts from our hands. And our understanding of the world is somehow tied to the way we touch things. And it's really like, When people are asked, for instance, what their pin code is, they often have to type it on an imaginary key pad.
And even programmers we think are these very sort of pure thought professionals. They rely on their hands to practice their craft. And that is one reason why I wanted to create. Kinesthetic our experience about abstract ideas of programming. So there's the physical book, of course, that you carry around with you, but then there's a lot of activities that use paper and crafting materials, and really try to create experiences where you touch the ideas of a computer.
So whether it's an algorithm or a packet switching methodology or whatnot it's sensory and I think it's really overlooked also.
Antonio Santiago: Yeah, it's funny. We were talking about this a couple of weeks back. Actually. I was discussing how my company is very similar because we are an ed tech company. So naturally we really believe in the power of technology, but children don't actually come into contact with the screens.
And that's not because we're against technology or, you know, anything like that.
I think it's fascinating. And I think it will change. There's so much of this, no screens and the top CEOs of Silicon valley, don't let their children use screens. The little rebel in me thinks that is to also like a dichotomy that. A little bit for bidding that absolutely no screens.
But I do think that being aware of how much time we spend looking at screens is, and especially in early childhood is important. And then this great story about Seymour Papert, who was like a huge influence on my work. He lived in the 1960s and he was taught by a famous children's psychologist and he had this great story about a little boy who was in math class. And at the time in sixties or seventies, you were forbidden to use your fingers when you were counting different numbers.
And it was frowned upon to use these mnemonics or aid tools and then Papert would walk to this boy and he would really see him struggling, trying to hide counting with his fingers.
And then he leans towards the little boy and whispers. What about your teeth? So he was suggesting to the boys that he uses his tongue to click behind his fingers to help him, I think, for the multiplication or sums or whatever and I love that story so much.
Maybe it's because Papert spend so much time with screens and computers and built that building blocks, but that he had that level of empathy towards a boy and understood that so much of our learning is ingrained in our bodies. And I think that intellectual framework will help us build learning products for the future as well.
Being more aware after this era in the nineties, when we spent time in front of the flashy UX and user interfaces, and then the three thousands, when we all spend our time glued on our phones that maybe the next 30 to 40 years, will be more aware of this connection to body. And we can see that in yoga and mindfulness and all of these other areas of life, where we are starting to appreciate that.
Are connected to our bodies. So of course learning is the same
Antonio Santiago: Let's delve into the connection between play and storytelling, your stories, put an emphasis on wonder and whimsy and imagination in order to promote learning. How does this idea of play really help benefit kids?
Linda Liukas: We have very privileged in this part of the world in Scandinavia, where I feel like play is universally understood as a way to learn. And all of the recession time that is built into the school day, all of. Open-endedness that the curriculum offers and these phenomenon are project-based approaches.
But just looking at very early childhood, how much there is free time for children to not extra curricular work not that many hobbies. And how much they spend time? Just on public playgrounds, for instance, here in Finland. And I think. Absolutely play even as a grown up, I feel like one of my professional successes has been that I've just allowed myself to play a little bit longer, that I never lost that sense of being able to create a little play in my head.
And for me it means imaginary play, but it can be so many different forms and methods of play,
Antonio Santiago: here at That's Child's Play. We believe that play is for everyone, but it can be especially useful for kids with less privilege. Now there's a great way to bring, play into the public. And that's simply by, literally bringing playful things into public spaces
Linda Liukas: one of the projects that I've been working now during the COVID time has been it started with this fact that we were all in our own neighborhoods and I would walk the same road every day. And then I would just start paying attention to. Surroundings. And there was this electricity box.
And then I asked for a permission to paint the electricity box with the Ruby characters, because I figured that. Public spaces should make us smile. Hopefully there's a little boy or a girl walks past it and notices that little poop emoji or the router that smiles , or the HTML file that makes a little jivey dance or so forth.
But anyways, just noticing more of the public spaces and out of that, like, exploration I met with some of the Helsinki city, officials and folks. And we started to explore this idea of a public playground. And what would a playground that was also a computer where you could crawl inside of a computer and learn.
On your hands and nose from the lowest abstraction level of electricity to logic gates, to hardware, to the apps we use, how computers work. And for me, it was an intellectual exercise first and foremost of, how do we take these ideas of physical play and touch and everything we've talked about before and turn it into a product.
But then the more I've worked on this project, the more I've realized that the true value is in the fact that it will be. Situated in a neighborhood that has very diverse groups of people. It will be along the Metro line, which means that people from all kinds of neighborhoods will be able to access the playground.
And it will be a public playground that offers the chance that there are fancy theme parks and there are Amazing museums in Finland that do a phenomenal job, but there is this sense of accessibility for folks who don't necessarily pass by or don't have the money to go in.
And I think that has been one of the, the most intriguing and exciting projects that. Being born out of this COVID time. The idea that what, how can we use our public spaces also in educational ways and figure out like ways to teach through a space and offer novel experiences that are tied to a place.
Antonio Santiago: It seems that you have a fascination with the intersection of arts and computer science and technology. It's sort of common thought to place these two subjects as diametrically, opposed to one another. What's the relationship between art and computer science to you and is storytelling and art in itself.
Linda Liukas: Oh, absolutely. And I think all computer scientists are artists. I hate the fact that so often we have these two polar opposites that there's the logic and math people and the creative art people. And I think there's so much overlap between the two and there's Carlo Rovelli, he is a famous physicist from Italy who like writes beautiful, poetic.
essays about the soul of physics and how it works. And he puts it much more beautifully than I do, but in essence, every single creative person is an artist programmers. They create something new out of nothing with the pure power of their mind. And if that's not art, I don't know how to even define it.
And I think absolutely storytelling is a form of art and I'm not talking about the institutional artwork. They have their own rules and so it should be, but I hate. Division, especially given that so many of the luminaries of computer science, where people with multiple interests and multiple deep passions say Claude, Shannon, who is the father of information theory, and who came up with them rules that govern how transistors and hardware gets made.
So how electricity travels. He was a guy who first in undergrad, he studied philosophy. And ran into this like obscure ideas of the 18th or 19th century, British logician and philosopher George bull. And then later in life, he studied as a grad student in MIT, electricity and electrical engineering, which at the time.
Almost like magician, wizardry world, more attuned to the crafting world, that there were no rules that govern how to make electrical circuits. And then he's like crazy brain. These two worlds melded so he recognized that the stuff he read as an undergrad in philosophy class by George Ball is actually the guidelines to governing electricity in this.
Transistor based world. And he created in the most influential grad thesis I think the entire history of time rules, but it was because of this duality of his brain that he could do this. And also he loved juggling and later wrote a physics paper on how to juggle balls in the air.
There's countless examples like this of people in computer science who have deep interests in math and music and poetry. And this cross-disciplinarity
Antonio Santiago: Yeah. And I also think that a fantastic example of this intersection between the two is game design. You have to keep in mind human psychology, design philosophy, problem solving. That's inherent to coding and the art aspect of everything, especially how it all comes together to really tell a story, have you delved into game design before.
Linda Liukas: As an avid player of a games, for sure. Not as a a game designer myself, but I completely agree with you. And I think it's an interesting example also because we're starting to, like everything used outside as a toy, that's the famous saying that everything new, it looks like a toy it's like, who needs this?
Why should we care about this? Takes over the world and changes profoundly our societies and ourselves. And I think computers were an example of this games definitely are an example of this. And the more nuanced we can create this world, the more we can give people tools and understanding of how they can create.
These virtual or augmented worlds. The more interesting we can make them. And like personally, for instance, I love Nintendo and the DNA, they like instill into their games and a lot of the games were born out of own experiences. So Zelda for instance, was when he was a little boy. He would go from one village to another and there would be like this big field and he found a cave and he felt so strongly about finding that little cave that he felt that later in life, that other people should have that same experience.
when he got into yoga, there was them, we balancing or yoga game. And there's a lot of these examples of people having profound experiences. Turning them into another art form. And in that way, I do feel that video games are a pinnacle of many of the experiences in our forms.
We are creating in today's world.
Antonio Santiago: Here. Linda mentioned Zelda, and I cannot express the sort of nerdy adrenaline rush that I got at that moment. You see, dear listeners, breath of the wild is an incredible game that tells a story with very little dialogue, but many puzzles, visual cues. And a massive world. The idea behind the game is that even though very little is spoken or given to you, as you play, you learn more and more.
I very much liken it to how children learn through play. In fact, in playing it, you sort of feel like a child light bulbs will go off in your head. You get easily distracted by this odd looking thing over here that you want to learn about and all along the way, you're using physics to solve frustrating puzzles. Enter video game speak for a couple of minutes.
Linda Liukas: I never play breath of the wild to finish it. I play to explore the world.
There's a little chemistry engine that they build in order for you to be able to actually cook the meals that Link eats, but it's whole. Yeah, I just roam in there. And I think another example I would bring up is Fortnight because I've never been interested in first person shooters.
I've never been interested in that kind of games, but when the pandemic started, I had this very profound experience of being and hanging out with my friends , on fortnight every single night we would put on our headphones. Yeah, sure. The shooting was one thing, but it was more like we got to go into this magical island.
And find new things and just discover a new entire world. And I think my generation in our thirties, we are starting to have these childhood experiences of playing Zelda, Nintendo, GameBoy versions, and having this like roaming these lands, but it's still a hard experience to explain for the older generation.
And that's, I think why we should be having so much dialogue between the gaming generation and then the people who will still be around for a long time. Because now again, the discussion is a little bit, one-sided saying that all gaming is bad and my child plays too much, and those are valid concerns for sure.
And I like that we are paying attention to who is instilling ideas into our children and how they are spending their time, but I would Encourage parents to be curious and open about getting to know the spaces and truly the worlds where their children roam and wonder around and breath of the wild or Fortnite would be wonderful places to start.
And thinking that what will these places look like in 20 or 30 years? Time is exciting.
Antonio Santiago: So you and I are two people who play games and love technology, but we also believe the power of a physical book over something like an ebook. It sort of sounds like an old-school opinion, but let's talk a little more about.
Linda Liukas: Yeah, I dunno. Why we must be so one or the other. In some ways I feel like the most profound thing we can do is hold two opposing ideas in our heads at the same time and be at ease and somehow technology sparks something very either you're super ProTech or then you're absolutely.
Against it like a Luddite and maybe that's one of the things I try to do in my professional life is to just have these opposing ideas in our head that you can roam your neighborhood forest and build a catapult, and you can do the same thing in breath of the world or Zelda, and both are important and meaningful experiences,
Antonio Santiago: and there's a listener question for you. And that question is if there's anything that parents can do to protect a child's creativity in the technology heavy world we're in right now,
Linda Liukas: I'm not sure if we should protect our children. I think we should give them tools to understand the world. And I think a lot of the narratives around technology are based on fear and 60 free things you can do as a parent to save your child. But I don't think we can save them. And I don't think.
we can't keep them entirely safe from technology, but what we can do is give them the strong, sense of recognizing themselves, Hey, this is a website I shouldn't be on or to say to their friends that, Hey, I don't like what you're sharing here. This is not for me. Or to say to their parents that, Hey today I saw something that was quite frightening and scary.
Can we talk through it? So in that same sense as The question, what is the programming language? My child should learn the answer is: they should learn creativity and fearlessness and curiosity. The same answer is like, how can I keep my child safe is teach them to recognize their boundaries, teaching them to rely on other grown-up people.
As opposed to try to like instill software or apps to keep them safe. Because I think that is the heartbreaking part of parenthood is that we can't keep them safe, we give hosts for the future and the world in our children and whatever we do, we can't shield them from all of the bad things in the world.
Antonio Santiago: You use letters in your love letters for computer series. And we use letters from Hoseli and Supra land. What is so powerful about the concept of a letter?
Linda Liukas: Letter as a metaphor, yeah. So love letters for computers, it's a series of videos we made a few years ago. Teachers, especially. And I think a lot of computer science teaching is often where someone tries to transfer as much knowledge into your head as possible in the shortest amount of time.
And especially on YouTube, we started with the premise that we wanted to do something different. And especially in science teaching, it's often this idea of like objectivity that you have. And facts are transferred to someone else's head.
And that is the way we do things here. And that is great. But in addition, I wanted to do something else. So I wanted to have a little bit of like subjectivity and I think letters. Letters, are like interesting. They are kind of notes across time. They are subjective. They show some how the person's world view and a lot of teaching and the best kind of teaching I've received is that kind of thing where you have facts tied to that subject of experience of framing the story, somehow.
And that's why I think the letters were born and maybe it's just love and computer science, two concepts that rarely happen in the same title. The premise for it. And I just loved the questions. The kids ask are actually real questions. So every episode is one like love letter to a computer.
So we go through data and algorithms. We talk about networks, we talk about AI and machine learning. We talk about diversity and equity. And then at the end of each episode, one of the children reads them question. They have for me, the teacher for the next episode. So it's this builds on the same ideas that it's a conversation it's subjective and there's that sense of curiosity that leads that exploration
Antonio Santiago: Oh, you touch on social sciences. Can you talk a little more about that?
Linda Liukas: A little bit, Yeah, I think it's interesting. Like computer science. As powerful as it is in the world. It's a quite, it's a young discipline, like computers, as we know them today, they are like 80 or 90 years old. And computer science is a discipline is like little less than that. And it's this weird, a merger between engineering.
So very crafty math and logic, this very abstract. And then there's this sense of like societal impact that being able to scaleably and cheaply. Problems in uses , but computer science schools, they so often live inside of engineering schools. And then in some cases they live inside of the math or like Science schools, but very rarely do they live in the social sciences schools where.
Have I think in my opinion equal right. To live in. And yeah, I'm not a trained social scientist, but I've noticed that in a lot of the curriculums nowadays that are now being created around K through 12 computer science there is this focus on thinking about first that sort of societal impact of computing and then also the pipeline problems.
So how do we get more diversity iniquity into that workforce? And I work mostly with the very young kids. So I don't want to talk to them about the pipeline problem or so, I just want to make sure that they understand that I belong. People who look like me can do things like these. Maybe showcase them a few of these pioneers and luminaries of computer science that come from all walks of life.
And that is the, gift of the then. of the, of the - diversity and equity episode. And then throughout the series, there is this idea that how do you like the things we learn about how do they influence the world? So instead of just focusing on what are algorithms and how do they work?
Antonio Santiago: Why is diversity in technology important?
Linda Liukas: It's when you fight a battle for a long time, you start to get a little bit jaded and a little bit. I dunno, like, cynical, and in that sense, I've started to notice this kind of not mid career, but I've been working on the Ruby series for almost 10 years now. And in the beginning it used to be really refreshing and exciting to answer questions.
Like, why do women belong at, like, why is it important that girls learn these skills? And after 10 years of giving the same answers over and over again, I still profoundly believe them. Also, I'm starting to notice that for me, the most rewarding moments come for instance, when I was in Japan, which is a very different culture from the Scandinavian, very sort of gender equal places,
these when little boys would come to me and say that I want to be Ruby when I grow up and then I felt, ah, This is the part of the puzzle that I didn't think about actively. Of course, it's about helping girls feel empowered and helping them see themselves as creators. But it's also the opposite where we try to change the perception of little boys so that they grow up thinking that, of course.
And then maybe it goes even a step further from that. And saying that, Hey, maybe little boys can become nurses who program or ballerinas who program. It's a tricky question to answer. But yeah, I think the message should be loud and clear that we all belong.
And then in the 10 years that we've been working on this problem, I think as an industry, we. , like the technology and education industry both have worked a long way. 10 years ago, it was still very much about gender. And now it's recognizing a lot more diversity, whether it's like racial or social demographic or so forth neurodiversity and so forth.
So in that sense, it's always good to at times stuff and look 10 years into the history and be like, oh, it was I used to get questions. Isn't it a brave that you have a little girl in the computer science book, like in the cover of a computer science book, and now that's been accepted and celebrated even so
Antonio Santiago: Here, Linda brings up an excellent point. Why are we still talking about diversifying science and technology? It seems like it's been long enough that it should be easier, but it also brought to mind the fact that when nonwhite men enter into these spaces, they face a lot of issues. For instance, the reckoning in the gaming and technology industry that's happening right now, like at blizzard where lawsuits are coming to light regarding them accepting women and minorities, but still being an old boys club.
Linda Liukas: And that's the other thing I'm a little bit worried about that. I have this almost an army of little girls and b- boys who are like. Bright eyed and bushy tailed and like excited about the future. And they are the creative and curious and fearless kids of the future. And then do I feed them into a system that is in no way ready or a structure , that will just turn them out and.
That is something I'm seeing with my old generation of women who like maybe went to a board camp 10 years ago and started doing software engineering, but they're starting to recognize that the structures within technology fields are quite demanding and are quite - harsh in many ways.
And somehow I wish that we would start to project our own lives more and create new kinds of structures and new kinds of entities where we don't need to fit into a model, but we can shine our own lights, project, our own frequencies.
Antonio Santiago: Linda, you're doing incredible work and truly believe that army of little boys and girls will eventually grow up to become higher ups in the industry who are going to enact the change we'd like to
Linda Liukas: Yeah, no, because my journey into this whole field started with a nonprofit that taught young women programming. And now I'm seeing those women become middle career people. And I do feel responsible in some ways that they are in this very environments and also just the change that has happened in 10 years, where 10 years ago, tech used to be the underdog.
We were the fluffy startups that had aspirational workplaces and good leave policies. And now it's the dominant way of the world and there - and of course there's growth pains in all of that. But yeah, I don't know if I would recommend people working in tech anymore. It's a big identity crisis.
Maybe I would recommend people looking for their own interests. And that's maybe the nice tipping point that we are starting to achieve where in some ways software ate the world, which meant that every industry became a software industry, but then we don't have this one dominant like technology culture that it means that biologists are, who create companies.
Biology, but utilize computer science and software to build those companies or art projects or whatnot are starting to emerge and that will lead to more diversity
Antonio Santiago: . One final question that I've been asking every guest on the pod is what is something a child has asked you that left you stumped or blown away or just laughing and how did you respond?
Linda Liukas: I think honestly, all of my books are response to children's questions. So for instance, like them book about the internet is an answer to a little boy who asked me what shape is the internet is the internet a place? And then I started to give him answer. And then I realized that my answer.
Oh, the internet is like the global village or the information super highway. And you can think of it is. And then I just realized that, oh my God I sound like a kid of the 1990s that like, that was my internet, the internet, the modem sounds, and them they're surfing online. And this kid's internet is completely different that he has never disconnected from the internet is something invisible and everywhere around him.
And we need new metaphors and use stories to answer that profoundly. Difficult question of is the internet a place. And there's other examples like this? For instance, the machine learning book started from a little boy in London who asked me. What am I going to do for work? If all the robots take over the world or do our jobs.
And I'm like, whoa boy, this boy has been having interesting breakfast discussions with his parents. But then as a result was born the fourth, hello, Ruby book about machine learning and AI. And this idea that our children deserv e hopeful and pragmatic approach to AI, as opposed to a fear-based idea about what it means to live in a future where there are robots and machine learning and AI everywhere around us.
So in that sense, it's a good question, and it leads most of the work I do.
Antonio Santiago: I'd like to think Linda so much for coming onto the pod. You can find her books at hello, ruby.com and her Twitter is @LindaLiukas. Both will be listed in the show. Well, that's it for this episode. Thank you so much for listening. If you liked what you heard, please consider giving us a review on apple podcasts, a follow on Spotify, or a thumbs up wherever you're listening transcripts for those deaf and hard of hearing are in the show notes, along with an accompanying post to this episode. Thanks again for listening to that's child's play. See you next time.
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