Script of Success: Tech Phenom Catt Small Talks Black Girls Coding, Diversity In Gaming

Thought leader of Brooklyn Gamery and Code Liberation paves her own way, and you can, too.

Smalls: "I tell people who want to make games that only real cost these days is time." (Image: Smalls)

What do you have to say to those who believe that it takes a lot of money or funding to develop your own games? Can you also talk about who else are some influencers that are helping to introduce coding to the youth?

I tell people who want to make games that only real cost these days is time. Making a game can take eight hours or 200 depending on the idea. It’s particularly easy to build a game now since many game development tools come with free versions, and several only require a text editor. Every tool and framework also has multiple tutorials now, which was not at all the case when I was young.

I think the hardest part about helping people to make games is dealing with the misconception that it’s really difficult to do. I’ve spoken at several schools about how easy it is to make games, and some of the tools I talk about, like Construct 2, Game Maker, and Phaser, are unheard of. I work really hard to share this information with people because they don’t have the privilege of being able to communicate directly with the games industry yet. So much of this information depends on who you know, and it’s unfortunate.

There are many wonderful groups that help kids learn to code. I recently met Errol and Patrice King from Beta and think they’re doing something really inspirational. Teaching kids to make games while they’re playing a game is so meta and genius. I’m really looking forward to seeing more from them. I’m also a large fan of Black Girls Code and CoderDojo. There are lots more initiatives out there as well, and I’m very glad that they exist.

Why do you think so few women of color are encouraged to learn more about coding?

I think most women of color don’t know programming is fun or a viable career option. People often look at code and think it’s like math, which is only fun if you’re taught about it in a positive way. Being into math, science, and computers is usually seen as nerdy, which is especially negative in the black community. I was lucky enough to go to a school full of black nerds multiple times, but definitely know the painful discrimination people who enjoy learning often face in the black community.

I actually stopped programming for a long time in high school, but fell into it again as I got older. Many women I’ve talked to also had the same experience. Parents and teachers need to stop encouraging young women to go toward less scientific roles despite clear interest in technology, and the tech industry needs to become a more positive environment for women. In order to be a programmer today, women need thick skins and a high tolerance for micro-aggressions. Similarly to the games industry, computer science needs to be more inclusive in order to gain and retain more women.

In addition to your UX Design work, numerous initiatives, classes and workshops, you’re an all-around pretty powerful person driven to create positive social change. How do you manage your time to achieve all these goals? What are some productivity tips that you could offer for the busy mover on the go?

My calendar and I are attached at the hip. Every meeting, even with friends and family, is laid out on my private calendar. I set alarms for each meeting based on travel and mental preparation time. In addition, I have a to-do list app called Any.do that I use on my phone and computers. Each morning, it reminds me about the tasks I’ve added throughout the month and allows me to schedule them for today, 2 days from now, or someday.

The best way to be productive is to find a system that works for you. I work really well with to-do lists and calendars. Other people need other kinds of systems or prefer a more analog approach. Find a way to work that doesn’t make you feel overwhelmed, and you’ll be most productive.

Also learn to say no, because there are always people who need help and you don’t have unlimited bandwidth to be of assistance. Value your time and be honest, because your word is important. People who are worth working with will respect your time.

Be sure to follow the latest ramblings and musings from Catt Small on Twitter — @CattSmall.

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