GVSU WIC Workshop – Write Your Own Language!

We were thrilled to welcome Grand Valley State University’s Women in Computing Club to Atomic on February 27th for a one-day programming workshop.


We decided to work through writing a simple language and provided participants with an introduction to the challenge, a set of unit tests to guide them through the implementation, and coaches to jump in with suggestions as needed. Oh, and plenty of food and drinks to keep everyone happy and energized through the day.

We chose to run this workshop for a few reasons:

  • We’ve been really impressed with the women we’ve met from GVSU’s WIC Club. We wanted to do something fun to get engaged and help out.
  • We really like solving technical problems, and we felt the best way for us to engage with the group was to focus on our teach and learn value mantra and solve some hard problems together.
  • Learning languages is enough of a challenge that many students aren’t introduced to the ideas behind designing and writing a language. We thought it’d be fun to explore this area and see what we could learn.
  • We love LISPs, and this workshop gave us a great way to sneak a LISP into the day’s festivities.
  • And of course, we’re really interested in introducing GVSU’s brightest students to our Accelerator program. This seemed like a great way to get to know each other a little bit.

Grand Valley State University's Women in Computing Club Members

The Workshop Schedule

We began our workshop with a good breakfast and plenty of coffee. We then went into a brief presentation on why we picked the topic of writing and designing a language, why we chose to write a LISP, what materials we were providing to the participants, and how to get started. Next we split up into pairs and got busy thinking about the challenge.

Throughout the morning, teams investigated a unit test representing a new capability for their language, discussed the various approaches they could take to add support for the feature, and then wrote the code needed to make the unit test pass and move forward to the next feature.

We broke for lunch, and then had teams continue through the afternoon. We were very pleased with what teams were able to accomplish over the course of the day. Well done GVSU!

What We Noticed

  • We were really impressed with the enthusiasm everyone brought to the event. We were also really happy with the turnout on a Saturday and the way our participants learned and solved problems.
  • We saw a lot of excitement as folks turned a rough framework into a more and more capable language.
  • Our base framework was written in Java. We noticed that some teams struggled with their IDE tooling just a bit and with some core Java concepts. Overall though Java seemed like an appropriate language choice for the group.
  • Teams seemed to really enjoy seeing tests start passing, taking time to celebrate new features, and moving on to the next challenge.
  • We were really happy to see lively discussion towards the end 0f the day – we felt that it was a good networking opportunity for the students who participated.

Wrapping It Up

I want to say a huge thank you to Xinyi Ou, president of the WIC club at GVSU, who helped us organize and promote the event. I also want to thank Jaime Lightfoot, who was instrumental in planning and running the workshop. Terri Vruggink did an amazing job making sure that we had great food and drinks to keep the group happy and energized. And of course, thanks so much to everyone who participated! That was a lot of fun!