These Girls are Coding with Confidence

The world is changing. Over recent decades, we’ve seen it progress at a previously unimaginable pace – most noticeably, in technology.

Not too long ago, computers filled whole rooms; today, they fit in our pockets. To communicate with someone in a different country meant writing letters and waiting weeks for a response, or spending large amounts of money to talk on the phone. Today, people all over the world are just a few clicks away. Technology has advanced so much already, and it won’t stop anytime soon.

Computer programming has become the language of the future, and as our world becomes more and more digitized, it will transform from a language to a superpower, enabling us to control computers and create new things.

It seems, however, that this superpower belongs exclusively to men. 20% of Google’s tech jobs, 19% of Facebook’s and a dismal 15% of Twitter’s are held by women. After being told for years that coding ‘just isn’t for them’, in a world where there are over 3 men in the tech industry for every woman, it’s no surprise that many girls and women find themselves hesitant to learn code and become a part of the tech industry.

Sixteen-year-old Japnit Kaur Ahuja realized this when she saw that she had been the only girl among twenty boys in her school’s computer club for three years – something not uncommon even in prominent schools in Delhi, where only 4% of their computer club members are female. In 2017, she founded The Girl Code with her friend Samriddhi Agnihotri in order to change this norm.

Today, The Girl Code is based in New Delhi and Singapore and is comprised solely of students – teenagers looking to make a difference in the world. These students run and manage the project, which aims to encourage girls to code and instils confidence in them that they can code, thus eradicating an essential problem of a lack of confidence.

By teaching them Python through interactive media and fun methods, and by exposing them to a community of like-minded girls, The Girl Code contributes to the effort to give rise to female programmers set to take the IT world by storm.

Through their web platform, which was designed by the students in the organization, they have opened a world of programming up to young girls. It includes a 10-chapter, online, comprehensive course in Python and programming. Along with easy access to tutorials, it also comes with a forum where students can interact with Mentors (female volunteers who are seventeen and eighteen years of age) and like-minded individuals, forming a community which acts as a safe haven for them to reach out to for help.

Credit: The Girl Code

Having established ties with several schools, The Girl Code holds workshops to encourage female students to take up coding. The organization held its first workshop at The Mother’s International School, one of the top 10 schools in India, on January 2 2018. Over 50 girls, ranging from 7 to 16 years of age attended. The girls began the workshop with absolutely no prior knowledge on programming, but by the end, had all constructed a game using Scratch and were proficient in Python.

There was a stark contrast in them – through the workshop, they transformed from shy, diffident girls to girls who were confident in themselves and their abilities. A few weeks after the workshop, two new participants had joined the school’s computing club, MINET, and another had cleared a cyber Olympiad. Their second workshop took place in May at Gyan Bharati School and was equally successful.

Credit: The Girl Code

The Girl Code now plans to host summer workshops at several schools in Delhi and Singapore to further their goal of reducing the gender gap in the tech industry. The organisation also launched a video campaign, ‘Code with Confidence’, where female programmers from around the world share their programming origins and journey in order to inspire young girls.

Today, women make up only a fraction of the tech industry. But there’s change in the air. Initiatives such as this one are not only changing the lives of individuals, but are also changing the very structure of society.

The Girl Code is a testament to the female youth of our world. Before long, these women will be the leaders of the industry – and they want you to be among them.

5 Ways to Build a Tech Career

There have been more technology innovations in the last two centuries than over the last 5,000 years combined, and yet regardless of all the advancements – from AI chatbots, driverless cars and even using drones for home delivery – we are still hearing about the underrepresentation of women in the technology sector

According to Mashable, in 2013, only 18% of computer science graduates in the U.S. were women. Professionally, women make up only 29% of the science and engineering workforce. A recent study found that gender stereotypes around STEM can affect girls as young as age six.

It’s mind-boggling that in this digital age it still feels like we haven’t made much progress with women in STEM. But rather than feeling frustrated, I advocate that a better attitude is to think, “what am I going to do about it?”.

After years of battling with this issue in the digital sector, and feeling my confidence dip and slide, I feel that the worst thing we can do is focus too much on the views others feed us. We’re more connected to other people now than ever before and, with our current behaviour of consuming news, certain mainstream narratives can really frames our mindsets. Regular tech news about men inventing and creating are presented as the norm. After a while it’s easy to believe the subtext: STEM is for men.

I’m advocating for change starting at the individual level. From my experience in digital tech and programming – it works. If you’re interested and want to get involved, then don’t listen to what others say. Ignore the negative noise and instead, pay more attention to strengthening your own interests. We must be proactive and empower ourselves, because waiting to be empowered just isn’t going to work.

So how can you achieve this self-empowerment? No matter your age, background or experience, check out these top tips to unlock your potential:

  1. Age is no barrier but commitment is key.

    Tech is open to everyone. You don’t have to be a millennial to get involved. If you have previous working experience and skills, these can be transferred into a new role within the tech sector. All you need is passion and commitment to a clear idea. Check out Masako Wakamiya’s app this 81-year-old woman learnt to code Apple’s Swift programming language from a younger friend via Skype and Facebook messenger.

  2. Embrace failures.

    This group of students participated in a 15-hour hackathon but encountered a lot of stumbles, accidents and errors within the short deadline. They eventually pulled it together and went on to win first place with their 3D printed device which translates printed text into Braille.

  3. Make, be, do.

    There are loads of great (free) online programming courses to help you get started. But the crux of any self-taught journey is that you have to put your skills in practice. You have to actually do something. Try building new things, over and over. If you’re in the right industry then you’ll be fuelled by desire to keep trying. Remember, think of yourself as a coder, not a girl who codes! 

  4. Sharing is caring.

    Coding together with friends or in a team can make your learning experience more enjoyable and expose you to a wide range of ideas you might not have considered on your own. Check out Meetup.com to find events happening in your neighbourhood. Even better, if you have the opportunity, why not help others into coding too and grow the community.  As they say, ‘to teach is to learn twice over’!

  5. Stay curious.

    Remember that tech is constantly evolving and programming languages change. Read widely, listen to podcasts, and experience as many coding events as you can. The ability to self-teach is already a critical skill that many tech startups look for, so don’t be left behind!

As Reshua Saujani – founder of Girls Who Code – says, there’ll be 1.4 million jobs in computer science in 2020. Girls are currently on track to hold just 3% of them.

We have to change this reality, and we have to change it now. We’re living in a digital age and headed towards an even greater tech-powered future. Of course, it can seem like there a million reasons why you shouldn’t get into tech, or can’t. But as long as you want to, then that one reason to start is all you need.

5 Steps Towards Bridging the STEM Gender Gap

Argonne National Laboratory: Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day 2012.  Photo courtesy of Argonne National Laboratory Flickr account, used under of Creative Commons license
Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day 2012. Photo courtesy of Argonne National Laboratory Flickr account, re-published under Creative Commons license

In 2011, when addressing the lack of women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) industries, U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama said:

If we’re going to out-innovate and out-educate the rest of the world, we’ve got to open doors for everyone. We need all hands on deck, and that means clearing hurdles for women and girls as they navigate careers in science, technology, engineering, and math.

By leveraging the creative energies of women, who serve as an untapped, valuable resource across all industries, companies will receive a surplus of benefits, ranging from fresh perspectives to problem-solving from female participants, a wider talent pool, and increased diversity of ideas. So, what needs to change to bridge the gender gap in STEM subjects and careers from this generation of women? Below are five steps that must be taken to empower women in STEM:

  1. Revamping the K-12 curriculum. As subjects within math and science depend heavily on prior learning to determine future understanding, schools should provide a focused, aligned, and clear-cut curriculum to facilitate learning in these subjects. Schools should stress the depth – as opposed to breadth – of learning. It is only through comprehensive understanding of conceptual knowledge that students can master these subjects. Math and science programs should emphasize “hands-on” experiential learning, rather than studying by rote, in order to capitalize on students’ interests and experiences. Accelerated courses should be offered if possible, so as to prepare girls for the introductory science classes offered at university.
  2. Developing programs that will pique girls’ interests in science and technology. Be it dynamic summer internships in technology start up companies, a Chemistry lab camp that encompasses the study of food Chemistry and forensics, or a science fair that features cutting-edge research ideas, girls need to know that science entails so much more than dry theory, and can be exciting and novel.
  3. Introducing girls to women leaders in STEM. These women in STEM – ranging from engineers to CEOs of technological companies to researchers in university laboratories – should impart their knowledge and expertise to girls who aspire to work in STEM and STEM-related fields, so that they know more about the rigors, intellectual stimulation and job prospects attached to STEM fields. Middle and high schools should invite women leaders to talk about their professions and shed light on the career prospects in STEM, so that girls can make informed decisions about their future careers.
  4. Combating stereotypes. In order to fully eradicate this underrepresentation of women in STEM fields, we must make sure that women and men don’t grow up in a society in which they digest images of scientists as boringly studious male misfits and absorb fallacies about the roles of men and women in science. Girls need to know that women have been the linchpins of many scientific projects throughout history; women discovered radium and polonium, proposed the nuclear shell model of the atomic nucleus, worked on the Manhattan Project, advanced the techniques of X-ray crystallography, and contributed to our understanding of ribosomes and DNA.
  5. Letting girls know that they matter. A simple word of encouragement, whether from a parent, peer or a teacher, is crucial to empowering women who are determined to overcome the hurdles that militate against their decision to pursue a career in STEM. The two simple words “you matter”, when said clearly and honestly, are essential to dispelling the deep-seated insecurities girls harbor about their futures. Only when girls know that they are an integral reservoir of talent, replete with value and potential to contribute to our society, can they, armed with newfound confidence in themselves, channel their creative energies into avenues of innovation in the fascinating nexus of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.