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Felienne Hermans

The Woman with a Mission (1984)

‘A woman with a mission’, is how Professor Geert de Snoo introduced computer scientist Félienne Hermans at the 2019 opening of her new research group called PERL - short for Programming Education Research Lab. This Leiden-based research group tries to discover what is the best age to learn programming, what concepts leave children confused and how a teacher can educate its pupils on the art of coding when they do not know a lot about it themselves.

The PERL group is just another manifestation of Félienne’s self-given mission: answering the question of how we can teach all people to program. Her message seems to be a spiritual heir to the (in)famous scientia potentia est: ‘programming is power’. Indeed, Félienne believes that the skill of programming will have people - from car mechanics to biologists - realize what possibilities are opened by the use of computers, how to address and ameliorate societal problems and - on a less serious note - support the creation of cool games, websites and art.

Admittedly, the initial locus of Félienne’s career had quite a different nature: Excel Spreadsheets. The topic of her PhD dissertation was the societal impact of spreadsheets and, simultaneously, she founded a company called Infotron. Here, she devoted herself to the development of PerfectXL, a tool to detect spreadsheet errors.

Having said this, Félienne’s ‘spreadsheet life’ was taking place mostly at the University of Delft, where she obtained her PhD in 2013. Her current residency at the Leiden Institute of Advanced Computer Science is concerned mostly with the aforementioned mission. This is clearly reflected in her academic publications. She investigates, for example, the effect or reading code aloud on the comprehension of it. Outside of academia, Félienne is equally active. She has produced several MOOCs - massive open online courses - on programming in Scratch; targeting both children as teachers. Moreover, she created a freely- available e-book for children on the development of games.

Félienne’s contribution to the uptake of programming extends beyond the online realm. She can be found teaching concepts of coding in a local high-school each and every Saturday. In addition, she was part of the FIRST LEGO League, assisting children with building a robot. Lastly, she co-organizes the annual event Joy of Coding, a one-day conference held in Rotterdam. Here, she brings renowned speakers together to ‘cover diverse aspects of the craft and reflect on recent trends in industry and academia.’

Félienne’s efforts have not remained unnoticed. In 2017, she won the prestigious SURF Education award. Moreover, in 2018, she was awarded with the Open Education Consortium Award. And deservedly so, as already 10.000 Dutch children are following her free programming classes.

Felienne Hermans


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