For those of you who don’t know, today is Ada Lovelace Day. Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace, was essentially the very first computer scientist, so across the world, people are taking this day to blog about amazing women in technology or science.
Today I’d like to tell you about my high school computer science teacher, Melissa Harmon.
My first year of high school I took a class on HTML, which was taught by Mrs. Harmon. She told us about another class she would be teaching the following semester, that would deal with programming using Pascal. Since I liked Mrs. Harmon as a teacher, I thought, why not. Looking back, those seem like famous last words
Mrs. Harmon was one of those quietly awesome teachers. She didn’t use any flashy gimmicks to keep students’ attention, but it was clear that she loved teaching and was excited about the subject, and that’s what kept everyone engaged. She was understanding and lenient when she needed to be, but she was never a pushover. It was clear she knew her stuff and wasn’t going to take any shit from anyone. When she realized that the class didn’t understand a concept, she would spend the entire class period to explain it, even if it threw off her lesson plan schedule. And she would find time to help students outside of class if they needed it.
As I continued to take computer science classes with her for the rest of my time in high school, every year the number of girls in the class grew less and less, until my senior year, when I was the only girl in AP Computer Science. Truthfully, it never crossed my mind that this should bother me.
When I graduated, I had Mrs. Harmon sign my yearbook. Later, I went back to read it. She wrote:
I can’t begin to say everything to you that I want to. I identify with you because of the fact that you are one of the few females in a male dominated class. Like AP this year, my college classes were often me and 20something guys, but it didn’t seem to phase you. When I learned that you wanted to study CS in college I almost burst with pride. You are going to be very successful (even if you choose a different field). Best of luck and come back to visit. Mrs. Harmon
It wasn’t until this point that I realized I had been doing something that was unusual — being a woman in computer science. All along, without me consciously realizing it, Mrs. Harmon was being the best kind of role model — one that I didn’t even realize I needed. But because she was there teaching me, living proof that it could be done, I didn’t even question that it couldn’t.
Her praise meant so much to me. Whenever I was having a rough time in my university CS classes, I would go back and read what she’d written. Everyone needs a reminder every once in awhile about how awesome they are 🙂
So thanks for that, Mrs. Harmon. I’m glad I could do you proud.