Original Article: 脑瘫、面包店、志愿者——“编程让我变得更真实”

Original Author: Miya Liu

In 2019, the freeCodeCamp Chinese community launched the DevTalk interview program. We invited senior developers, Internet practitioners, and people with development backgrounds to share their experiences learning programming, working experiences, and other exciting stories.

As the host of this interview, I will write an introduction for each guest. Today we have Xu Zida (徐子达). I will write a little bit more for this introduction. Thank you for your patience while reading this. ^_^

In the summer of 2016, I first met Xu Zida at Suzhou Industrial Park (苏州工业园区) Renai School (仁爱学校). He sat in the last row of the classroom, struggling to tap the keyboard with one finger, learning programming with freeCodeCamp to participate in a programming competition we had organized in the Chinese community.

And in the front row of the classroom, his classmates – several children with autism – were doing rehabilitation training under the guidance of their teachers.

We met two more times at the next event hosted by the study group of the Suzhou community event and programming competition award ceremony. Every time we met, he always talked to everyone with a smile. His words revealed an optimistic attitude, calm and powerful.

In early 2018, I contacted Ms. Zhang (Zida's teacher) at Renai School to ask how Zida had been doing. I was surprised to learn that he had graduated and was running a Rengongfang (仁工坊) bakery, right inside Renai School.

So I visited him and gave him freeCodeCamp stickers as a little gift. I also signed up for a membership card. One was to show my support, and the other was because the bread and cakes in the store were too tempting.

Yes, it's a really comforting bakery to walk into. The sun gently poured on the wooden floor at the entrance, and the young clerk arranged the freshly baked bread one by one in the window. The bread was so delicate and vibrant as if saying to me, "Welcome, it's a great day today!"

Image via Rengongfang Bakery ^_^

Zida was retouching pictures in a small studio. They took a beautiful picture of each bread, fixed it, and sent it to the members' WeChat group.

He stopped working, and we talked about each other's stories for the past year or so. At noon, Renai School delivered a few boxed lunches, and we sat in the corner of the bakery while we ate and talked. At that time, Zida was as smiling as when we met in early 2016, and there was more of a confident glint in his eyes.

I remember that in 2016, his programming tutor, Mr. Qi, spoke at a community event, hoping to find a programming internship for him.

Today's Zida has learned new skills in addition to programming and started new media operations. I was really happy for him, and the chat that morning was extraordinarily relaxing.

Then there was no contact for more than a year. I recently started the DevTalks at the encouragement of Quincy (the founder of freeCodeCamp), and it was a natural idea to invite Zida as a guest.

He gladly accepted the invitation. From responding to my first draft to making changes based on my suggestions to finalizing the draft, it took him nearly 14 hours to write.

I am incredibly grateful that he was willing to accept my invitation to interview and answered every question carefully.

In response to some questions, Zida would tell me directly, "I can't answer this question because there are some experiences that I don't want to share with everyone."

He has no intention of describing his learning experience to the program as a typical inspirational story. He simply confesses that "programming did not make me better than I was before, nor did it make me very confident."

When asked about his expectations for the future, he said he wanted to go back to school and volunteer to teach other children about computers "because that's all I know."

To be honest, he didn't respond as I expected. His answers weren't shocking, and weren't always inspiring.

But, this is the real Xu Zida. Because it is real, it is charming and precious.

In fact, I agree with Zida. You can think about programming as a hobby or as a career and choose your learning style and resources according to your actual situation (of course, freeCodeCamp is an excellent learning resource).

But I'm sure you'll get something from reading this interview.

I believe that everyone has a sparkling story to share. I hope that readers will be inspired by the stories that their predecessors and peers have gone through or are going through. Next time, we hope to hear your story ^_^

Interview with Zida

Q: Please briefly introduce yourself.

Hi, friends of freeCodeCamp. My name is Xu Zida. I was born in Yixing, Jiangsu in 1997 and now live in Suzhou, Jiangsu.

My cerebellum was underdeveloped due to premature birth and delayed neonatal jaundice.

At age 2, I was diagnosed with pediatric cerebral palsy. "Cerebral palsy" is one of the few diseases that cannot be cured, which means it will stay with me for the rest of my life.

But I can assure you that this is not a sad story, and I have had a delightful life for the past 23 years.

As for why I told you about my physical condition at the beginning? Because to understand me, my disease is a topic that cannot be avoided. Besides, doesn't the protagonist of every story need a "backstory"?

Q: What are you working on these days?

I am currently working in a bakery, helping the store produce some WeChat articles and post-processing for promotional images.

In general, my current work status is somewhat similar to programmers. We both spend long hours in front of the computers, use multiple software simultaneously, and feel tired at the end of the day.

Compared to the work I'm doing, I actually prefer my "side job." Starting a month ago, I go to Renai School every Friday and teach one of the students to write public posts. In short, I will teach him all the things I am doing.

Zida working in the bakery

Q: We last met in January 2018 at Rengongfang Bakery. This bakery is the business project you started after graduating from Renai School. How is the business going so far?

It's been a year and a half since we opened our bakery. Although there have been some twists and turns, the business is running smoothly.

Most of the customers who usually come here are also repeat customers.

Some customers would chat with us after buying bread. Sometimes you'll hear their stories, sometimes you'll hear about their latest troubles.

Although these things have nothing to do with me, I still like to listen to other people's stories. Because their experience may be something that I can never experience.

Zida's Renggongfang bakery is located in Renai School. The address is No. 9, He Yun Street, Suzhou Industrial Park

Q: I remember our first meeting in 2016 in the classroom of Renai School. At that time, I learned from Principal Fan and Ms. Zhang that this special education school was well-known internationally. Especially in the area of autism education and rehabilitation. Can you give a brief introduction to Renai School?

As mentioned in the question, Renai School is a special school for students with special needs.

A "special student" is a minor who differs athletically or intellectually from other students, which is the primary population served by Renai School.


Q: When did you enroll in Renai School to study? What are the main courses of study there?

I enrolled in 2012.

Most of my time at Renai School was relatively free, and the lessons I took at that time were fairly elementary.

During that time, I read the entire series of Harry Potter novels, the whole series of Winston Churchill's Memoirs of World War II, and some of Keigo Higashino's books.

I might also watch some movies, like all the movies Marvel has made in the last decade.

Q: When did you start learning to program? What difficulties have you encountered in learning to program, and who have you received help from?

I started learning programming in 2016.

Most of the skills I learned before that involved physical training, such as how to get up when I fell, how to reach for a cup, and how to stand so I wouldn't fall.

But these skills do not connect with or create value for others. Until programming came along.

When the principal asked me, "Do you want to learn to program," I actually wanted to refuse because I knew it would be tough for me to learn to program. And after all, no one wants to add an annoying thing to their life.

But I finally agreed because I wanted to see how far I could take it when I was doing something I had never tried before.

Later, the principal invited Mr. Qi to come to the school once a week.

Initially, he taught me all about the basics of programming, such as what is "absolute positioning," what is "relative positioning," what is "px," and so on.

After learning this, Mr. Qi recommended the website freeCodeCamp to me. I finished all the HTML5 and CSS challenges and some of the JavaScript challenges.

I remember when you held a competition, the first prize was a drone. Then I went crazy to solve all the challenges, and my ranking was very high for a time.

The webpage Zida made for Renai School

As for the difficulties I encountered in the learning process, there were really no difficulties now that I think about it. Later I also began to slowly enjoy programming, and it is not difficult to do what you like.

Q: Can you share some programming learning platforms and resources that you think are good?

In addition to freeCodeCamp, I found W3Schools and the jQuery plugin library to be two helpful sites to use.

The former is entirely free and provides access to the most basic tutorials on front-end development.

For the latter, part of the content is free and part is not. This site has a lot of homemade animation effects and a lot of interactive plugins that web pages can be used, such as forms, search bars, dialog boxes, and so on. After downloading, they can be directly applied to your web page.

Q: In the 2017 Suzhou Industrial Park Programming Contest, you won the first prize in the high school group. That is a terrific accomplishment! Can you tell us a bit of the background of this competition? What was your entry? What did you get out of this competition?

This competition is a web programming competition for primary and secondary schools in Suzhou Industrial Park.

Yes, you read that right. It was a programming competition for primary and secondary school students, so all I can say is that I got a relatively good ranking in the end.

My work is about traditional Chinese culture, the four great inventions, and so on. It took one or two months from conception to final completion.

The organizer sets the theme, so the content of everyone's work should be similar.

After this competition, according to my teacher, I won an award certificate, which has been left at the school.

Q: What changes do you think programming has brought to you?

Programming did not make me better than I was before. It's making me more real.

It made me understand how much reward one gets depends on how hard one works.

It also showed me where my limits are and taught me how to cross them.

Programming didn't make me confident either. But it made me realize how endless the knowledge of the world is.

People's ideas are intertwined, and when those ideas are shared by others, they can become a force for change in the world.

Always have an unconfident heart in the face of knowledge.

Q: Have you tried to get a developer job?

I didn't try to get a programming-related job because programming is just a hobby.

Q: The freeCodeCamp community is full of people who are new to programming. They may be full-time mothers, high school students, college students, drivers, accountants, or lawyers who have switched careers to learn to program. Some are programming as a hobby, others are hoping to find a developer job in the future. Can you give them some advice in relation to your own learning experience?

If you are just programming as a hobby, you will be fine as long as you are happy.

As for learning programming, I'm sorry I can't give you advice.

Let me use an analogy: the fCC website cooks up a lot of programming-related dishes for you. But only you can decide whether you want to eat them with a spoon or chopsticks.

Q: Let's talk more about Rengongfang. What are the following plans you and your team have for this project?

From New Year's Day 2018 until now, we have provided dessert solutions for several schools in Suzhou.

And in cooperation with Renai School, we have held DIY baking events for our friends from all over the country and even Singapore.

We will continue to host similar events in the years to come.


Q: Besides work, what are your usual hobbies?

I usually like to play games, listen to music, and watch movies.

I remember the first movie I saw was The Chronicles of Narnia.

My favorite game is The Witcher 3.

My favorite music is Lemon by Genji Yonezu.

Q: Can you use short words and sentences to describe your life and work at the moment?

My life is enriched by my work.

Q: What are you looking forward to about the future?

Suppose I don't run the bakery in the future. In that case, I may go back to school as a volunteer and teach other children about computers.

As for why I want to teach them about computers? Because that's all I know.

Q: Thank you for the interview with freeCodeCamp. We are a very small non-profit organization with a mission to help people worldwide learn to program for free and have gained a lot of support in the process. Is there anything you want to tell us?

The power of a man is small, as I know best.

Thank you for being there when I needed help.

As you said, it is your mission to help others, and I hope you will keep it up.