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BubbleSort Zines Lure Teen Girls to Computer Science

An Airbnb engineer had a lifelong dream to show high-school girls how creative computer science can be.

Amy Wibowo

Amy Wibowo knew, even as a kid, that computer science was a magical intersection of math, science and pictures. “As the teacher introduced a new concept, I would make cartoons about it,” she said; the visual elements of math theory sparked inspiration for her. “Textbooks are so dry,” she mourned; why didn’t anyone create textbooks with comics? “That would be so much juicier,” she thought, and resolved to make it happen someday.

 The cover of BubbleSort’s inaugural issue
The cover of BubbleSort’s inaugural issue
Amy Wibowo

That day has come. The first issue of her BubbleSort Zines series hit mailboxes last week. Pitched at early-high-school-aged girls, it aims to spark the same passion for code that Wibowo remembers so fondly, and which has served her so well.

“I have a pretty traditional computer science background,” she said. “I’ve been coding since I was like 8, went to MIT for undergrad. But I have a lot of interests outside of computer science, like fashion and art, that I’m always trying to integrate into my love for computers and technology.”

But that connection is lacking in computer-science education, so that inspiration isn’t sparked during students’ formative teen years. The problem — which surely leads to the sort of dismal gender-diversity numbers Silicon Valley has been wringing its hands about — is that coding is perceived as uncreative and unrelated to other disciplines.

 How your cattery works
How your cattery works
Amy Wibowo

Wibowo quit her job as an engineer at Airbnb, where she had worked for three years, to focus on creating and selling her zine in late March of this year. Her Kickstarter campaign garnered more than $60,000, well over her $10,000 goal, and her subscribers extend far beyond her target audience, running the gamut from self-taught programmers looking to pick up theory to dads teaching their daughters. For those with younger readers, she recommends the “Hello Ruby” books, also the subject of a successful Kickstarter.

That first issue of BubbleSort is called “How Do Calculators Even,” and it starts out by reinforcing the idea that you aren’t automatically “bad at math” because you don’t like arithmetic. Arithmetic sucks, she concedes. It’s a much better idea to outsource it to automation, and look: Here’s how that actually works.

Each issue costs $8, and a 12-month subscription is $60. There is an option to gift a subscription to a school. If this catches on, it may do a lot to improve the engineering gender gap that has been perplexing so many in Silicon Valley.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I6071MRIzCA

This article originally appeared on Recode.net.

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