• digitalsocietypodcast

Sofia, synonym with courage and ambition

Updated: Aug 7, 2020

"Programmer" a word that you probably involuntarily associated with the image of a man. However, this field also belongs to girls! Sofia Băcanu, a 16-year-old high-schooler, is among those girls who break the barrier and thinks it's time to #connect #learn #act.

CoderDojo has been for Sofia the perfect place to learn how to program, to develop websites, applications, programs, games and much more. CoderDojo turns programming into a social and fun experience. She was not the first in the family to be part of the CoderDojo, her mother was already a mentor and her 10-year-old sister a ninja, both for Scratch. With a lot of time and dedication, Sofia coded Flappy Bird in Python, and now she has moved on to another challenge - Tetris. She is currently doing volunteer work for the EducaTM initiative, an achievement she is very proud of. It made her realize what a privilege she has by being born in Timișoara, learning at a good high-school, having a supporting family and never having to worry about skipping meals. Sofia is the kind of person who can’t be guided to only one specific domain, such as IT. She likes coding, sports, playing instruments, working with kids, acting and more. Her dream is to become a commercial plane pilot. But I'm sure she'll tick off this aspect as well. She is an example that shows us it is possible.

Who inspires you and how do they inspire you?

First of all, my parents inspire me by always being by my side and accepting me as I am. They support me no matter what crazy career dream I come up with and I think that it sometimes goes unappreciated. I also find inspiration in all my older friends who I have watched become who they wanted to be, choosing universities from all around the world and pursuing their dreams. Inspiring is also the EducaTM team, which I have spent a lot of time with and learned so much from.

Could you firstly explain the initiative behind CoderDojo and what drew you to a project of this kind?

CoderDojo is a global initiative which brings together kids that are interested in programming by offering them the chance to be mentored by experienced volunteers.

I wasn’t the first in the family to be part of CoderDojo. My mother and sister stepped first into it, my mother a mentor and my 10-year-old sister a ninja, both for Scratch. I later joined them during the summer school organized by CoderDojo and learnt coding in Python.

Do you think it is important for all young people to be introduced to coding and website development?

Considering the rapidity of the technology’s development, definitely yes. It should be part of the program. It is partly for the info-based classes of some high-schools such as mine, "Nikolaus Lenau" or the "Grigore Moisil" high-school, where they teach C++. But I think that with the upcoming generations at least, every student needs to know the basics of programming and web-development.

Who’s your mentor?

My mentor is Eugen Neagoe, who is one of the most intelligent people I’ve met and who taught me all I know in Python.

You are a Coder Dojo ninja. Describe your experience here.

After the summer school, during which I’ve coded the game Flappy Bird in Python with the help of Eugen Neagoe, I’ve been going almost regularly every weekend to code some more at the CoderDojo headquarter. Sadly, that wasn’t enough for me to learn more than the basic commands in Python, that’s why I’ve been unable to advance without Eugen’s help. But we kept seeing each other through Zoom even during the pandemic and have gotten to the point where we coded the game Tetris, which is a lot more complex than Flappy Bird and took a lot of time and dedication.

You are a volunteer at Educa TM. What made you get involved in this project?

The connection between CoderDojo and EducaTM was, of course, Radu Ticiu, who was involved in a project with my mother during the pandemic. That’s how she found out about this and that’s how I later found out too and decided to also be a volunteer. The purpose of EducaTM is to facilitate access to online education for students with socio-economically marginalized families who do not have an internet connection and/or the necessary equipment. We collect smartphones, tablets, laptops, desktops that we evaluate, repair, equip with the necessary software, disinfect and distribute them directly or through schools or other non-governmental organizations to children in need.

Being a volunteer, have you ever felt your work went unappreciated?

I actually didn’t, especially while being an EducaTM volunteer. We are constantly praised for how efficient and passionate we are about our work. I’ve also seen some of the beneficiaries of our work receiving the donations. And the feeling of actual pride when we see them get excited about their new computers and laptops is enough to equal the work put into this.

Also, I am a really empathic person, and the trips organized by EducaTM to deliver the equipment left a strong impression on me. Especially the last one, when we went to Socol, where there are far worse conditions than those from Timisoara. It made me realize what privilege I have by being born in Timisoara, learning at a good high-school, having a supporting family and never having to worry about skipping meals. Of course, these families weren’t even some of the poorest there are in the world. However, that realization hit me really hard, although I was already aware of the conditions some people of Romania and all around the world live in. But being there and seeing it feels totally different than hearing and reading about it. Then I thought to myself: by giving them PCs and laptops we’re not only allowing them access to internet and the possibility to learn, but we are also keeping a connection between them and us after the delivery and opening the gate to another world, where they can see how many possibilities they have and choose their own way in life, not the traditional way chosen by their families. Only it’s their choice if they want to do it. Still, the feeling that I might have played a role in their evolution is enough to make all the work worth it.

the 366 monitors the team (including Sofia) checked

What is your greatest strength and how does it help you as a volunteer?

My greatest strength, or I would rather call it a useful personality trait because I think it is relative if it’s actually a strength, is that I absolutely hate losing time. It’s true I sometimes just do it, I mean do nothing, but I feel so bad afterwards that I avoid to do it again. Don’t get me wrong, I am aware of what means time spent with friends or actually doing any activity that would be categorized as ‘free-time activity’, such as watching movies or reading books. As long as I feel that I’ve gained something afterwards, it’s time well-spent.

I am not the most organized person, but when I work, especially with other people, I tend to have these urges to work more effective. Then, I organize myself and help the others be more organized too. And I love working in a clean workspace, but I think that this need of mine has intensified after I’ve met another volunteer from EducaTM, Adrian Nicuşor Duma, who really is the most organized person I’ve met.

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

One of them would be exactly this project, EducaTM.

I also was really proud of myself when I won last year’s edition of the school’s photography contest with this picture after little to no experience and gained the first money that wasn’t from the school’s grant or my family. It doesn’t seem too big from the outside, but it really mattered to me.

Sofia's work for the photography contest at the "Nikolaus Lenau" Theoretical High School in Timișoara. Theme: "Contrast". Protagonists: Eva's hands "talking" with her grandmother's.

What are your hobbies?

In terms of IT, I only do programming. As for art, I like watching theatre and acting, as I am part of the school’s theatre group, Nil. I have recently started playing the drums and enjoy taking photos of events, people or even myself. I learn more foreign languages at a time (right now I’m focusing on French and Italian) because I see them as important door-openers in life, but I don’t know if this counts as a hobby too. I also play volleyball in one of the city’s teams, CSS Bega, or with my friends during my free time. And, of course, I like watching art movies, listening to music and reading.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

My dream since I was 14 years old is to become a commercial plane pilot. One thing I know for sure is that I want to study abroad. That’s why I see myself as a student at the pilot’s school in five years, somewhere in Austria or Germany. As for in ten years, I hope to already have a stable job in the flight industry, or be anywhere near it.

Erika Iszlai

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