Women holding a sign that says “I just had sexism”
Women holding a sign that says “I just had sexism”
Yay, feminist puns! Credit: Claudio Schwarz

Before I came out as transgender in 2019, sexism was of my biggest fears about living as a woman. I’d benefited from some kinds of male privilege up until then: people listened to me when I spoke; when I was assertive, they usually read it as confidence and authority; people rarely questioned my authority or expertise. Being treated as a man-made life easier in these ways (and of course, as a trans woman, much harder in others).

In contrast, throughout the 1990s and 2000s, I saw how poorly women were treated by my male classmates. Women were constantly interrupted. When…


A photograph of a crumbling, dirty school hallway of a school in New Jersey.
A photograph of a crumbling, dirty school hallway of a school in New Jersey.
A crumbling New Jersey school, mirroring our crumbling future. Credit: NJEA

For most of my childhood, my mom was a primary school teacher. She taught second grade for several years while we lived in Eastern Oregon in a rural Ontario, just outside Boise, Idaho. It was a diverse community, with Japanese immigrants who had been interned, Basque immigrants who had been sheep herders, Mexican immigrants supporting farms, and of course White farmers and ranchers. …


A blocky grey robot stands in front of a desk an inelegantly operates a mouse and keyboard.
A blocky grey robot stands in front of a desk an inelegantly operates a mouse and keyboard.
Yes, aging transfeminine robots have wiry, sparse hair and an inability to skillfully operate mice and keyboards. Credit: Amy J. Ko

This year has been devastating in so many ways to so many people. Death, chronic illness, grief, depression, stress, and anxiety are everywhere. In my relatively privileged bubble, with a stable income, a home, no young children to care for, and a job I can do from home, the worst of my past year has been manageable: I have lots of practice with depression, despair, and isolation, and know how to overcome them with some patience and self care. That’s let me focus on caring for family, faculty, staff, and students without the same resources or resilience.

But when I…


A photograph of the book over showing a robotic butterfly and the book title, blurred in the background.
A photograph of the book over showing a robotic butterfly and the book title, blurred in the background.
282 pages of CS education research and practice, alphabetized.

I don’t know if you’ve heard, but teaching computer science is hard. Code can be unforgiving; students find their ways into dark corners of languages and tools, and if teachers don’t know how to help students out of them, students might lose faith that they can learn CS, and lose faith that teachers can help them. Engaging students in making anything remotely interesting can be challenging in all but the most carefully controlled settings, and even then, teachers need a rich toolbox of pedagogical content knowledge (PCK) for managing the inevitable complexity of student identities, interests, and strategies. …


A stick figure laying alone on a large grassy field under a blue sky, all in watercolor.
A stick figure laying alone on a large grassy field under a blue sky, all in watercolor.
What I work for. Credit: Amy J. Ko

I spent much of my childhood home alone, with my younger brother. My parents worked: my Mom as a 5th grade teacher almost an hour’s drive away, leaving well before I caught the bus to school and coming home well after I returned home. And my Dad, working in quality assurance with frozen berries, also an hour away. We usually ate dinner together, then watched the nightly news and an episode of the The Simpsons, and then we would sleep, and do it all again. We spent weekends together, but much of our time was on errands, as our parents…


A protester holds up their homemade sign on a box that says, “Black Trans Lives Matter No Justice No Peace”
A protester holds up their homemade sign on a box that says, “Black Trans Lives Matter No Justice No Peace”
No justice for Black people, no peace for me. Credit: Ira L. Black, Getty Images

Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the United States, a day that means different things to different people. For some, it is a day off work. For others, it is a day to remember remember his activist leadership that led to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which not only ended Jim Crow laws, but also affirmed equal rights to people independent of the basis of race, color, or national origin (and amended in 1968 to include sex and religion). For others, it is a day of service, where we work to bend the United States and its…


Two wavy horizontal watercolor lines, one purple, one green, woven together.
Two wavy horizontal watercolor lines, one purple, one green, woven together.
Life is a mixed blessing. Credit: Amy J. Ko.

Today is the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere. For me, it’s a day of duality; it’s both the darkest and shortest day, with just eight hours of daylight, usually shrouded by a thick layer of Seattle clouds and rain. In some ways, it is the day I am least hopeful about life, because it leads me to ponder everything that has happened in the past year, and sometimes, in past decades. And then, of course, it can be a day of hope, foreshadowing longer days, a promise of spring, and new opportunities for love and growth.

The darkness, of…


The walls of trans disregard, disdain, and discrimination keep closing in.

A feminine figure leaning over, head facing down, pushing against two walls grey walls of an enclosure.

I spent the first 39 years of my life living as a boy, then a man. For most of that time, I couldn’t put my feelings about my gender into words. But I can imagine what I might have said if someone had ever asked, what is your gender? When I was in grade school, I might have said, “I’m a boy, but I’m supposed to be a girl.” In middle school, I might have said “How do I stop this hair from growing on my face???” In high school, believing there was no escape from my poisoning puberty, I…


A screenshot of Google search with the query “is google oppressi” and the suggestion “what is oppression google scholar”
A screenshot of Google search with the query “is google oppressi” and the suggestion “what is oppression google scholar”
Don’t change the subject Google.

I spent this summer reading a lot about race and technology (McIlwain, Eubanks, Benjamin, Costanza-Chock, and more). Most of my reading has been broadly scoped, focusing on all of technology and its historical and present day interaction with race. In some ways, this has been transformative, giving me an entirely new lens with which to think about the past and the present, and my role in it. But on other ways, this has been overwhelming, since it’s meant grappling with the entire history of technology and race in the United States, particularly computing.

To give myself a break—if I can…


A Scratch program that, when clicked, redundantly updates a character’s speech bubble to say “editor!” 28 times.
A Scratch program that, when clicked, redundantly updates a character’s speech bubble to say “editor!” 28 times.
When I say block-based, you say editor. Block-based! Editor! Block-based! Editor!

I’ve been writing about some heavy things lately—race, gender, politics. As passionate as I am about these large issues in society, I occasionally need an intellectual palate cleanser. Something light, small, maybe even trivial, maybe even pointless. Tackling these little things like like a cool down after a workout: it’s a way to slow down in a measured way from something intense, before finding a more peaceful resting state. Like Thanksgiving weekend.

What better than a rant about word choice? I am an academic after all, and so this wouldn’t be an academic blog if I didn’t at least occasionally…

Amy J. Ko

Professor of programming + learning + design + justice at the University of Washington Information School. Trans; she/her. #BlackLivesMatter.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store