13-year-old game, 11-year-old programmer

Wednesday 9 March 2016

I got an email from a mom last week:

Hi Ned— My 11-year old son recently started learning Python and is using it to solve math problems. Today, he wondered how Python is used in real-life; we did a search and came across your “Nat’s World.” Is there a possibility for you and your son to meet with us to share Nat’s World?

I told her I couldn’t meet one-on-one, but suggested they attend the upcoming Boston Python project night. I didn’t know what would come of it. Project night is completely unstructured, an opportunity to hang out with other Python people. It’s a complete jumble of all kinds of people. There’s no guarantee you’ll find what you need there, but there’s a good chance you will.

Last night was the project night, and there they were! They sat down at one of our beginning learner tables, and others joined them. I didn’t have a chance to sit and talk with them at length, but I could see they had the attention of helpers, including John, one of the regulars. Each time I looked over, John was in deep discussion with the kid.

While talking to someone else last night who was interested in game programming, I looked up the game that originally got the mom’s attention: I posted Nat’s World to this site 13 years ago today!

The mom and the kid said goodbye to me when they had to go. She seemed pleased, and he did too, in his quiet but eager way. I told him, “That makes me happy.”

As the night was winding down, I caught up with John, who was talking to a few others. “That kid was amazing!” he said. “I know, that was so cool,” said someone else.

This is what makes local user groups so great. I don’t know what John was expecting to do with his evening. I don’t know what the mom and the kid were expecting when they decided to come. But they made a connection, got some help, and made an impression on each other. People across the room who didn’t even talk to the mom or the kid came away with an unexpected picture of what the Python community can be like: broader and more diverse, more welcoming than the stereotype of a tech user group filled with brogrammers.

And this is also what is cool about making things and putting them online. Nat’s World was a fun project when I made it. I haven’t run it in years, but my family still remembers it fondly. When I first posted it, I had a few nibbles of interest from people, but it was only a little side project, I could have just as easily not put it on my site.

In the way of the internet, Nat’s World had receded into the past, an old post unlikely to get any further attention. The code doesn’t even run any more. But someone found it, and because of it they got in touch, and they got to a project night, and connected with other people, and who knows where it will all lead?


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