Jessica Garson has this idea — an idea for how to teach basic computer programming skills in a way that is fun and creative and also accessible to those without personal computers.
The medium? A zine. Yes, a zine.
Here’s how it happened. Garson grew up in the D.C. area, and was really into the punk scene as a teen (she still is — even sings in a punk band!). She grew up collecting lots of zines (self-published magazines) but eventually that habit faded away. “I didn’t really think about the medium for a really long time,” she told Technical.ly. But in 2010, when Garson moved back to the area, she was pleased to see that the D.C. zine scene was still going.
Around that same time Garson began learning to code. In 2014, when she attended Zinefest in D.C., an organizer mentioned that programming zines used to be a thing — a sort of low-tech version of what GitHub does now. Dream Machines, for example, was a self-published guide to computers that first appeared in 1974 — when the technology was still very much in its emerging stages.
Garson was inspired.
She made the first edition of her programming zine What’s My Function (yes, like School House Rock), aimed at total beginners, ahead of the third Tech Lady Hackathon. “It looked like it was made by a high school student in 1997,” she laughed. And if there are copies remaining she’s keeping those close to the chest — none can be found online. But then she made another (and posted it online) and another …
The most recent edition of What’s My Function, edition three, is about how to build a personal website. Garson made building a personal site her New Year’s resolution in 2014, she told Technical.ly, but procrastination got the better of her.
When she finally did unveil her site in Dec. 2016, though, it came complete with its own zine.
Very excited to release a new edition of What's my Function. This one is all about building a personal site. https://t.co/r6ndkVFVb5
— Jessica Garson (@jessicagarson) December 12, 2016
Since making her first programming zine, Garson has learned she’s not the only one who wants to bring the medium back in the tech space. At PyCon (held in Portland, Ore.) in June, Garson was one among a small but devoted crew combining zines and code.
For Garson, part of the appeal of a programming zine is simply being able to play around with an art form that she loves so much. Moving forward, she said, she’d love to include comics or illustrations in What’s My Function — she envisions it as a powerful way to tell stories about being a woman in tech.
But there’s another angle she’s passionate about too. A consistent tech inclusion advocate, Garson sees physical zines as a way to lend those without personal computers, or internet access at home, the ability to explore programming functions and ideas — very much in line with the programming zine’s previous incarnation in the pre-internet era.
Want to be part of it? Garson said she’s looking to publish a new edition of What’s My Function every six months or so. Find her on Twitter here.