A brief biography, two to three sentences, about who you are, where you’re from, and the work you do.
My name is Marcella (25) and I grew up in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. My family is from Curacao (a beautiful island in the Caribbean that was a former Dutch colony and is still part of the Dutch Kingdom). I like science and studied to be a physicist. Currently, I am doing postgraduate research in theoretical/computational astrophysics in Southampton (UK) and am running Project Cece: an online search engine for fair and sustainable fashion.
How did your story with code start?
I never thought coding would be for me and stayed well clear of it in high school. But during my study in Physics and Astronomy coding was part of the mandatory curriculum. Unexpectedly, after some time, it turned out that I really enjoy it and I chose to do a minor in programming.
What do you love the most about coding?
Coding is often seen as a technical skill. But I really like that it allows for a lot of creativity. There is no one way to design a piece of code and you can use all your creativity to find which approach fits a particular problem best. Also you can be creative in deciding what to code and I find that incredibly deliberating and empowering. Want to make games? Do science? Make software, tools or websites that can improve lives? In a sense, it is all at your fingertips.
Coding has a bit of a stigma that it is a difficult *technical* skill. But I don’t think writing code is a lot more technical than writing text. Sure, you need to know some basics and learn a code language, but that is not so different from learning the alphabet, grammar and vocabulary when you are learning a new spoken/written language. It mostly requires practice. I think the ultra technical image of coding can be discouraging to people who do not consider themselves technical (even though they might actually be!), as it was in my case. I hope more people will see that there is more to coding than technicalities.
I learned Python in my undergraduate courses and used it primarily for scientific problems. For example, to model the orbits of planets in the solar system, or to do a statistical analysis of the likelihood for finding planets that could be habitable, or to model simple quantum systems. Later, I chose courses from the Programming Minor, where I learned to make web visualizations and learned the basics of webscraping. Since I felt most comfortable working with Python, it made a lot of sense to use Django when I wanted to build a web project. Also, the Django slogan just perfectly describes what I needed: ‘For perfectionists with deadlines’.
What cool projects are you working on at the moment/planning on working on in the near future?
From experience I know that it is easier to see problems and complain about them, than it is to stand up for something or work on solutions. The clothing industry is one of the most polluting and exploiting industries in the world, and we are all contributing to it when buying clothes. My sister (Melissa Wijngaarden), a friend (Noor Veenhoven) and I learned about this, but still found it difficult to find ‘fair’ clothing even though a lot of non-mainstream brands are out there doing good work. We decided it should not be so hard to find fair and sustainable alternatives and, since we knew a bit of programming, that we could actually make something that could make it easier!
So we built and launched Project Cece (www.projectcece.nl). Using automatic webscrapers, we collect all the sustainable and fair trade clothing that is offered in different webshops on one website. This way, consumers can go to one website to find fair clothing alternatives, instead of having to browse through multiple (often small) webshops. We built this website from scratch in Django. It was my first Django project and I made extensive use of the excellent Django Girls tutorials, which I recommend to everybody! At the moment Project Cece is only available for the Netherlands and Germany, but we are working on expanding it to other countries soon.
What are you the most proud of?
Getting out of my comfort zone. A few years ago, I never thought I could be an astrophysicist, or an entrepreneur or a developer.
What are you curious about?
How things work, mostly (in no particular order of complexity): The universe, humans, cats.
Do you have any advice/tips for programming beginners?
Don’t think coding is not for you based on the image of programming or programmers you might have. Ask for help and be proud for doing so! It is perfectly okay to be discouraged and frustrated sometimes, I am pretty sure everybody is and it can actually be a way to improve on a personal level as well.