Our Skillcrush: Linda Liukas
By: Deepina Kapila
Meet Linda Liukas. She is the co-founder of Rails Girls, an awesome organization that empowers women with technology tools and a supportive community to build their ideas. Liukas founded Rails Girls in Finland and the organization and approach experienced rapid international growth, with chapters popping up in cities all over the world. And now Liukas is hard at work on a children’s book to continue her mission to make technology accessible to girls and women of all ages.
The book, “Hello Ruby” aims to teach 4-7 year olds about programming and open source culture through a smart, mischievous female protagonist and her whimsical adventures. What’s even MORE exciting is that Liukas’ Kickstarter has until this Friday to secure enough funding to allow her to build an accompanying app for Ruby to continue her adventures and reinforce coding concepts. If you haven’t donated to her campaign yet, please do so by the 21st and lets help make this delightful project a reality.
The world needs more Rubys (and Lindas!). We sat down with Linda and learned more about how Ruby came about.
Tell us about yourself.
My name is Linda Liukas. I’m originally from Finland, and split my time between Helsinki and New York. I love Muji, Zelda Fitzgerald and Moomins.
How did you begin coding? What inspired you?
I was 13 years old and madly in love with Al Gore, who was the vice president of US at the time. All my teenage girl passion and energy only had one outlet: building the first (and probably the last) finnish website for Al Gore. At the time there was no Tumblr or Facebook, so I needed to learn HTML and CSS.
What made you decide to cofound Rails Girls?
I wanted to learn more Rails myself and felt I needed a fun, whimsical environment to do it. That’s why the first Helsinki event in 2010 happened – after that, it became apparent that others loved the idea and execution and to date the event has been in over 160 cities all over the world.
Tell us about your technology career so far. What have been the most exciting & most challenging things you’ve encountered?
I think I never grew out of fairytales. For me, programming and the technology has always been a maze of stories and magic and I’ve been lucky to be able to explore this world both professionally and as a hobby. My latest project is a children’s book on the foundations of technology through the eyes of a small girl called Ruby. Before this I worked at Codecademy and co-founded Rails Girls. Most of my workdays are now spent with illustrating, cutting pieces of paper and reimagining what a curriculum of code should look like. The challenging part is
Who are your role models? Who keeps inspiring you every day?
My rolemodels are Tove Jansson, a finnish author and illustrator who created the Moomins. Armi Ratia, who is the founder of Marimekko and created a whole new language for business. And finally Edith Södergran, a poet who lived in 1920’s and was more fearless than anyone I know. Scandinavian women really.
Any advice for women who are just starting to learn to code?
Be persistent and don’t give up. It’s the cheesiest of advice, but having a daily routine really helps. Keep coding, even if it’s for just 10 minutes a day. And lean on the people in the technology community.
Why do you think we need more girls and women coding?
I think we can reshape online culture from the ground up; we can and should be working towards a better Internet built on a strong foundation of diverse experiences. I love what Tavi Gevinson is doing with her community of teenage girls. Imagine giving her readers the tools to build the Internet that looked like them.
Tell us about Ruby. What is she like? Who are her friends? What kind of world does she live in?
Ruby is one of the best little girls I know. She has family all around the world. Her father is from Japan, but she has aunts and uncles and siblings and cousins everywhere. Sometimes Ruby is a little bossy. She says things like “Get me the milk from the lowest shelf of the fridge” and “Combine two spoonfuls of cocoa with the milk”. Ruby learns quickly. If you show her how to make her bed, she’ll have no trouble doing it a hundred times over. And she’s independent: Ruby doesn’t like other people telling her how to clean her room, only what should be done, while she prefers to figure out the process herself. All the adults say Ruby is a sensible, nice kid. But sometimes she can be mischievous. If you’re not very precise in ordering your chocolate, the kitchen might end up be flooding with hot cocoa. Ruby’s favorite things in the world are her precious gems. The colorful, glittering gemstones are presents from all over the world. When Ruby closes her eyes the gems become magic and help her do things she never could have done alone. Ruby’s friends are pretty mischievous too. Androids are messy. Snowleopard doesn’t want to play with other kids. Penguins are booksmart but sometimes hard to understand. Oh, and the coolest thing about Ruby? She and her friends have their own secret language. In Ruby’s world there are words that mean things and words that do things. And magic happens every day.
How did you come up with the idea for Hello Ruby?
Whenever I used to run into a concept I didn’t really understand, like object oriented programming or garbage collection, I would think how Ruby would imagine it. After a while it became an obsession: I started seeing stories and characters everywhere in the technology world. That’s when someone suggested I should make a book out of this.
What do you hope young girls will take away from the Hello Ruby experience?
I would try to make people who don’t work in this industry see how warm, whimsical, compassionate and full of culture the technology community is. It’s not a world of only computers. People are the backbone of technology. Internet is profoundly human.
What can parents expect their children to learn from the book?
The book is an old-fashioned adventure story, that teaches mostly about technology culture. The workbook dives deeper into programming concepts. Check out Liukas’ Hello Ruby preview in this video:
Want more articles like this?
Sign up to get the most recent tech news, tips and career advice.