Hi April! Thanks for being here. To start, please tell us a little about you.
I started coding in high school and loved the way I could create virtual worlds using the computer. I continued studying computer science in college and got my first job at Sony working on PlayStation software. For the next decade, I worked at a variety of Silicon Valley startups in gaming, education, and digital healthcare. I ended up starting my own company because I realized that as much as I loved working on the technology, I didn’t find there was enough discussion about the humans who would use the technology. So, I started Compassionate Coding to address that by teaching emotional intelligence to my fellow coders.
What exactly is Compassionate Coding?
Compassionate Coding is an approach to software development that’s centered on the human beings involved in and affected by technology. Compassion in general is about noticing suffering and working to alleviate it. So when you apply it to coding, it means addressing pain points throughout the software development process.
In practical terms, there are four areas for Compassionate Coders to consider in their work: their own well-being (e.g. managing stress), the well-being of their teammates (e.g. collaborating with empathy), the well-being of the software users (e.g. making software user-friendly and accessible), and the well-being of society at large (e.g. anticipating possible social impacts of the software we’re building). For example, Facebook is scrambling to address issues like false information on the platform because they didn’t think about these issues earlier on.
With Compassionate Coding, I help other coders see why it’s important to care about human issues. Our training focuses specifically on teaching emotional intelligence to technologists because I feel that is the foundation for understanding and addressing all other human issues. I see my role as planting seeds of compassion and encouraging people to continue growing them for the rest of their lives. It’s the start of a journey, not the end.
Being compassionate with ourselves when we make mistakes gives us more courage to experiment with creative ideas. Also, being able to collaborate compassionately with others who have different experiences and perspectives will also open you up to their creative ideas.
I love that more compassion can lead to greater courage. Our curriculum also aims to help kids develop grit, determination, and a growth mindset. How would you describe a growth mindset? Why is it important to coding?
These are all essential skills for coders. Some people think, “Oh, I could never be good at coding. I’m just not born that way.” That’s an example of a fixed mindset where you think your skills are limited. A growth mindset, on the other hand, means recognizing that though we all may have different skills right now, we can choose what skills we want to develop with practice. Since we are constantly learning new programming languages and technologies, a growth mindset is essential for any coder to thrive in their career.
Is there anything you think parents and educators can do to encourage compassion in kids?
One exercise for parents and children is to pause to imagine what life is like for someone else. For example, if you’re driving and someone cuts you off, do you yell—and does your child see this? What would happen if you tried pausing and saying, “Hmm, that person must be in a real hurry to do something dangerous like that. I wonder if they are rushing home to take care of their own sick child.” Difficult moments are great opportunities for practicing compassion.
I would also encourage parents and children to seek out stories from different cultures in their community and around the world to develop empathy and compassion.
At TCS, we’re dedicated to closing the gender gap in tech and are proud that over 50% of our students are girls. As someone who has found such success in the tech industry, do you have any advice to young women looking to follow in your footsteps?
We definitely need more women in tech! To young women seeking a career in tech, I would say this: you all have a wise voice inside your head that knows what is right for you. Other people may offer you advice based on their own experience, which can sometimes be helpful, but it’s not always relevant to your unique path. So my advice is to learn to listen to and trust your wise inner voice. Mine is what led me to start my company!
Many thanks to April Wensel for taking the time to chat with us at The Coding Space. You can learn more about her work at www.compassionatecoding.com and check out our full- and half-semester class options here.