Interview with Eva Hu and Mari Luz Aguado, the main developers of Dr. Scratch by Jesús Moreno León

 

Eva Hu and Mari Luz Aguado are the main developers of Dr. Scratch, a tool that allows young programming learners improve their coding skills.

 

You both have studied telecommunications engineering. Why did you choose that degree?

We had always been interested in those subjects in which problems are solved and in which you test your inventiveness. In addition we are really interested in new technologies and, as the world is evolving in that direction and we believe it is necessary to know how they work in order to live in today’s world, we chose telecommunications because of the variety of topics and fields that are studied in this degree.

Your work at Universidad Rey Juan Carlos (Spain) is centered on the Dr. Scratch project. What made you decide for this project?

We chose this project for two reasons: programming web and children. Is there anything better than teaching children how to program? It also allows us to develop other skills because we perform different roles in this project, not only focused on programming.

Can you tell us more about your usual tasks in this project?

We develop front and back-end solutions, designing the website to be useful for children as well as for teachers. With that goal in mind, we collect suggestions to improve the tool. Another task that we love is to show Dr. Scratch to children in the workshops we run, it’s the most fun! Finally, the most important task it is to keep the web server always up, which is a challenge and we are learning a lot from it.

How the workshops with children contribute to the project? What do they bring to you?

One of the main challenges of Dr. Scratch is that the website is easy-to-use for young users,  and children participating in the workshops bring new ideas and points of view that are very hard to see for an adult.

Personally, the workshops helps us develop our communication skills as many times are we going to explain programming concepts and we must do so in a very simple way. And, at the same time, we strengthen our knowledge of programming. As Einstein said, “I do not really understand something unless you’re able to explain it to your grandmother”, well, in this case, to a child.

In addition to these workshops, you also collaborate with Programamos and CoderDojo, and you are starting a new project to teach programming to children. What moves you to spend your time volunteering in these initiatives?

The illusion children get when they discover that they can make their own games and applications is enormous. When you tell them that they too can do it, in the beginning they do not believe it because they think that coding is only for “grown-ups”. In addition, children themselves teach us new ways to program or new ideas, as they are not so conditioned and know no limit. We are often asked very curious things.

Have you noticed differences between boys and girls in learning programming?

Yes. In general we have noticed that the boys are satisfied with their program when it works, while girls want their projects to be cool. Using Dr.Scratch, girls tend to follow the guidelines in the feedback reports to level-up their score to the maximum; however, boys, once achieved a certain score, leave the program to start creating a new project.

What would you say to a girl or young woman who is interested in programming and technology but has doubts whether she will be ready to develop her career in this field?

We would say “do not hesitate!”. This field is something that you like it more and more as you keep learning, because the technological culture is like an iceberg: you can see the tip (which are all devices we use today) but below there is much more . Studying technology lets you know everything about what’s below the surface and allows you to understand how it works. When you get to
understand something, you even like it more! As for what to be prepared or not, it happens in all degrees and careers, so do not be afraid to face great challenges,  because when you overcome them you get a greater reward. Furthermore, this type of degrees allows you to create your own applications like Dr.Scratch.