1 month ago

Nicole Parrot interview

Home-schooling her kids led Nicole to help others learn to code

As part of the wider educational mission of the Raspberry Pi Foundation, there’s been an ongoing effort to address the low percentage of girls and women in computing and related spaces. While the overall gender balance is disappointing, there are still some amazing women who have always been part of the community, such as Nicole Parrot.

This article first appeared in The MagPi 82 and was written by Rob Zwetsloot

“Last millennium I was a software developer in the special effects industry,” Nicole, who currently works at Dexter Industries, tells us. “Followed by five years at Microsoft in 3D graphics.”

Nicole quit in the late nineties to home-school her kids, which included teaching them and other children how to code. Her home coding lessons soon moved over to schools, and she’s helped teachers bring code to the classroom.

“That gives me approximately 15 years of experience in exposing kids to code,” Nicole says. Her work at Dexter Industries reflects this experience.

This fake snowman is powered by Pi, and manages to survive the cold Québécois winters

What is your role at Dexter Industries?

I am CTO for Dexter Industries. As such, I manage a small team to bring new products to market, and create projects. I also manage curriculum writing. We want to offer teachers the full experience, from a stable robot in the classroom to prepared lessons, to open-ended projects. Our main product is the GoPiGo, now in its third iteration. We’ve learned a lot about what’s needed to make a robot for the classroom, and this particular robot is the end result. It comes packaged with DexterOS, based on Raspbian with tools that make it usable out of the box. […] Within DexterOS we have Bloxter, a block-based language, and Python available, again all within the browser. I’m quite proud of this project, to be honest.

What inspires you?

Kids! And this is from a person who used to be entirely career-oriented. I used to avoid kids, and flee from the room if someone would bring their kid with them. Then I did a full 360 degrees when I got my own. Kids are such a gift; their way of thinking is magical. Their reactions are just awesome when they figure out something like a tricky piece of code, or lighting up an LED for the first time. Sharing knowledge (remember that I home-schooled, I did all subjects, all years, and then some more!) is the most inspiring experience I can think of.

I’m also a yarn artist, I love natural yarns, and I try to buy from local breeders when possible. I love to know that this particular yarn came from an animal with a name, and I get to know that name too. I have a source for alpaca yarn that allows me to visit the animals in question. That way I know they are well-treated.

Nicole’s activities don’t just limit her to Canada – she’s also been to Cambridge (UK) for Pi Wars, and been to the Pi Store

How did you learn about the Raspberry Pi?

I was an early adopter of the Pi. I got my first one at Christmas 2012. I could not get one before that because they were not for sale in Canada where I reside – the first available ones were in December. I’ve been around since the beginning. However, I had been out of tech for a long time already by that point, didn’t remember any electronics, my UNIX was entirely forgotten except for ‘vi’. I could use vi and even exit it if I wasn’t thinking about it. Muscle memory is a funny thing. But there wasn’t much I could do with the Pi at that point.

I spent quite a few years playing catch-up, getting my tech groove back. It was funny how simple things were tricky to get back – I remember having trouble getting two embedded loops to work – but more advanced concepts like recursion were a breeze.