Why We Need Coding Clubs for Girls

Girls Who Code was born out of my experience in politics.

Girls Who Code was born out of my experience in politics.

When you’re running for office, you go to a lot of schools, and you meet a lot of parents and kids. In 2010, I was running for US Congress in a district that included both the Upper East Side and the Queensbridge Houses, the latter of which is the largest public housing in North America. So, I was really able to witness the technology gap up close and personal. I would travel to private schools on the Upper East Side and see robotics labs, and then I would travel to Queensbridge and see a single girl working at a computer in the basement of Bishop Mitchell G. Taylor’s Center of Hope International church.

I lost that race, but when I became the Deputy Public Advocate at the Office of the New York City Public Advocate, I began to think about initiatives that pertained to the work I wanted to do on issues like urban entrepreneurship and economic opportunity. It was through this process that I came up with Girls Who Code.

From a policy perspective, it is clear that many new jobs are going to be in the computing related fields, but women earn just 12 percent of computer science degrees. That just didn’t make sense for me.

I come from a family of engineers. My father and my mother are both engineers. Not only that, but many of my mother’s friends are engineers. In India, there is a movement, mostly promoted by policymakers, that pushes children to go into the science and technology fields. I was and still am curious as to why that never happened in America. I thought, “What would happen if we put 20 girls in a classroom in a technology company? What if we challenged some of the major issues that are preventing young women from going into the technology space?” That was the main question that inspired the creation of Girls Who Code.

I was that little girl that was terrified of math or science. I always thought that I wasn’t smart enough, or I imagined that I would not like it. I wasn’t attracted to it. And I really regret that I didn’t enter the field. I regretted it in my thirties when I became a policymaker, because I was fascinated by Boston creating a pothole app, and I wished I knew how to code something like that myself. I couldn’t, because I didn’t know how, and that was something that has always bothered me. Coding is a 21st century skillset that comes in handy regardless of what you want to do. It is probably 10 times in a day that I wish I could change a website, or build an app, or communicate on that level, but I don’t have that skillset.

I don’t really know the answer as to why there is a great gender divide, because there isn’t a proper study on the issue, but it’s fascinating. There were actually more women in engineering jobs in the seventies. There’s been a decline in women in technology, even though the jobs are there. And there’s no pay gap. It’s the one industry where there is no pay gap between the male and the female engineers. Also, computer science is a profession where engineers enjoy a lot of flexibility, so if we’re having conversations about work-life balance, this is the field. It has limitless potential.

Let’s talk about some of the issues that prevent girls from approaching the technology sphere. One: in the 1970s, 10 percent of doctors and lawyers were women. Now, 40 years later, that number is above 40 percent. Why? Grey’s Anatomy, Ally McBeal, ER. We are inundated with images in popular culture, and when those role models hit the mainstream, people are inspired and the fear dissipates. I decided I wanted to be a lawyer when I saw Jodie Foster in The Accused. We don’t see that with girls as far as female hackers. Arguably, Sandra Bullock, that was a great role model for girls in STEM, but she was the exception to the rule. When so many girls think of the computer sciences, they think of a nerdy guy that no one likes, typing on his computer. They think, “I don’t want to do that.”

Two: the Girl Scout Research Institute asked high school girls what they wanted to do with their lives, and above 75 percent said they wanted to “change the world.” But these girls have a hard time seeing the connection between technology and creating and making things. Little boys at ages two, three, and four, are encouraged to take their trucks apart, build things, create things, and develop things. We need to instill that maker mentality in girls at a very young age. And we don’t.

In January of 2011, I started thinking about Girls Who Code as a way to challenge those two principles. At first, I was just talking and meeting with people. I met with computer science teachers, with whom we developed our first curriculum. We asked, “Can we develop a curriculum that would really target young girls?” I spoke to people who had put together summer programs and fellowships, and everyone agreed that we should start with 20 students. We also found that, because of bureaucracy, it would be challenging to organize something as an afterschool program, but we discovered that summer programs were much easier to organize. We also decided that eight weeks was the amount of time that we needed, though we’ve managed to condense it to seven.

The idea of immersing the program within a technology company really made sense, because if you are trying to convince girls to get involved, being at a cool tech place would give them a taste of what it would be like to be a technologist. Interestingly enough, when we started the program, I decided gave the girls a stipend, because I thought I was going to have to pay them to be in an office for eight weeks in the summer, instead of playing at the pool. I thought I was going to have to give them an incentive. We soon found out we wouldn’t need to. Still, I didn’t know if the program was going to succeed. I hadn’t intended to build a movement with my first program. I just wanted to see what would happen if you put 20 girls in a classroom and you taught them how to code. Would they learn how to code? Would they like it? Suffice to say, we were really blown away our first summer.

We started with a very diverse set of girls. We had privileged girls who went to The Bronx High School of Science next to girls who just arrived in New York from Senegal two years ago. We had girls that had done a little bit of hacking on their own to girls who used a computer for five hours a week. We had a diversity in socio-economic backgrounds, experience, passions, and interests. Initially, we thought dropout rates could potentially be high. We did not have that problem at all. Each girl stuck with it, and they just fell in love with it. Best of all, they were good at it.

Four of the girls from 2012 who were seniors at the time have already declared majors or minors in computer science, and are at college right now doing that.100 percent of them said they were more likely to choose CS than they were before. The last two weeks of our eight-week program is to allow each of the girls to do a project. Our girls built things that were just tremendous. Khady built a website to teach computer science in 32 different languages, despite having to teach her to use a mouse the first week. Cora built an algorithm to help detect whether a cancer is benign or malignant. Lesley started building websites for immigrant entrepreneurs in her community. Nikita made an app called Tree Hugger that she was invited to present at the White House Science Fair. These were amazing results that we simply could not have predicted. They all wanted to make things that were about making the community better. That was a big eye-opener for me. We don’t even know how amazing our world could be because we are not empowering our girls.

One of the most amazing things we found in our first year as well was that when the girls graduated, they said, “Oh my god. I found something amazing. I want to share it with people.” So, they started teaching their sisters, their parents, and their classmates. That’s where we decided to create the Girls Who Code Clubs. Our girls go back to their school, and are able to launch a club. That is our other product that we are focused on now. We want to reach as many girls as we possibly can. The Clubs allow us to build a pipeline. They become a feeder for our immersion program. We’ve reached about 600 girls so far in our Clubs, and we’re hoping to reach another 2500 this year. I have visited a several schools that run Club programs, and have come across so many great little girl geeks that are coding, building systems, and creating things. Oftentimes, it’s girls who are already interested in STEM, but they think they want to be doctors or scientists. They’ve just never been exposed to computer science before. It’s a whole new world for them, and they’re really excited about it.

From last year, about 7500 women graduated in computer science, and about 5000 girls took the AP computer science exam. So, even if we get half of our girls to do that, we will move the needle enormously. We are running 16 Summer Immersion programs this year. We only have 320 spots. We anticipate over 1000 applicants. We don’t want to turn anybody away. How do I get the girls who are not able to participate in our programs this year—how am I able to teach them? That’s something we really want to figure out.

Reshma Saujani founded Girls Who Code, a national nonprofit working to inspire, educate and equip young women with the computing skills to pursue 21st century opportunities. They recently expanded their Summer Immersion program to Miami.

via Collection of the New-York Historical Society / Wikimedia Commons

Fredrick Douglass was born into slavery in 1818. At the age of 10 he was given to the Auld family.

As a child, he worked as a house slave and was able to learn to read and write, and he attempted to teach his fellow slaves the same skills.

At the age of 15, he was given to Thomas Auld, a cruel man who beat and starved his slaves and thwarted any opportunity for them to practice their faith or to learn to read or write.

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via Thomas Ledia / Wikimedia Commons

On April 20, 1889 at the Braunau am Inn, in Upper Austria Salzburger located at Vorstadt 15, Alois and Klara Hitler brought a son into the world. They named him Adolph.

Little did they know he would grow up to be one of the greatest forces of evil the world has ever known.

The Hitlers moved out of the Braunau am Inn when Adolph was three, but the three-story butter-colored building still stands. It has been the subject of controversy for seven decades.

via Thomas Ledia / Wikimedia Commons

The building was a meeting place for Nazi loyalists in the 1930s and '40s. After World War II, the building has become an informal pilgrimage site for neo-Nazis and veterans to glorify the murderous dictator.

The building was a thorn in the side to local government and residents to say the least.

RELATED: He photographed Nazi atrocities and buried the negatives. The unearthed images are unforgettable.

For years it was owned by Gerlinde Pommer, a descendant of the original owners. The Austrian government made numerous attempts to purchase it from her, but to no avail. The building has served many purposes, a school, a library, and a makeshift museum.

In 1989, a stone from the building was inscribed with:

"For Peace, Freedom

and Democracy.

Never Again Fascism.

Millions of Dead Remind [us]."

via Jo Oh / Wikimedia Commons

For three decades it was home to an organization that offered support and integration assistance for disabled people. But in 2011, the organization vacated the property because Pommer refused to bring it up to code.

RELATED: 'High Castle' producers destroyed every swastika used on the show and the video is oh-so satisfying

In 2017, the fight between the government and Pommer ended with it seizing the property. Authorities said it would get a "thorough architectural remodeling is necessary to permanently prevent the recognition and the symbolism of the building."

Now, the government intends to turn it into a police station which will surely deter any neo-Nazis from hanging around the building.

Austria has strict anti-Nazi laws that aim to prohibit any potential Nazi revival. The laws state that anyone who denies, belittles, condones or tries to justify the Nazi genocide or other Nazi crimes against humanity shall be punished with imprisonment for one year up to ten years.

In Austria the anti-Nazi laws are so strict one can go to prison for making the Nazi hand salute or saying "Heil Hitler."

"The future use of the house by the police should send an unmistakable signal that the role of this building as a memorial to the Nazis has been permanently revoked," Austria's IInterior Minister, Wolfgang Peschorn said in a statement.

The house is set to be redesigned following an international architectural competition.

via Chela Horsdal / Twitter

Amazon's "The Man in the High Castle" debuted the first episode of its final season last week.

The show is loosely based on an alternative history novel by Philip K. Dick that postulates what would happen if Nazi Germany and the Empire of Japan controlled the United States after being victorious in World War II.

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via Mike Mozart / Flickr

Chick-fil-A is the third-largest fast food chain in America, behind McDonald's and Starbucks, raking in over $10 billion a year.

But for years, the company has faced boycotts for supporting anti-LGBT charities, including the Salvation Army, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and the Paul Anderson Youth Home.

The Salvation Army faced criticism after a leader in the organization implied that gay people "deserve to die" and the company also came under fire after refusing to offer same-sex couples health insurance. But the organization swears it's evolving on such issues.

via Thomas Hawk / Flickr

The Fellowship of Christian Athletes explicitly announced it was anti gay marriage in a recent "Statement of Faith."

God instituted marriage between one man and one woman as the foundation of the family and the basic structure of human society. For this reason, we believe that marriage is exclusively the union of one man and one woman.

The Paul Anderson Youth Home teaches boys that homosexuality is wrong and that same-sex marriage is "rage against Jesus Christ and His values."

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In 2012, Chick-fil-A's CEO, Dan Cathy, made anti same-sex marriage comments on a radio broadcast:

I think we are inviting God's judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say, "We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage". I pray God's mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about.

But the chicken giant has now decided to change it's says its charitable donation strategy because it's bad for business...Not because being homophobic is wrong.

The company recently lost several bids to provide concessions in U.S. airports. A pop-up shop in England was told it would not be renewed after eight days following LGBTQ protests.

Chick-fil-A also has plans to expand to Boston, Massachusetts where its mayor, Thomas Menino, pledged to ban the restaurant from the city.

via Wikimedia Commons

"There's no question we know that, as we go into new markets, we need to be clear about who we are," Chick-fil-A President and Chief Operating Officer Tim Tassopoulos told Bisnow. "There are lots of articles and newscasts about Chick-fil-A, and we thought we needed to be clear about our message."

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Instead, the Chick-fil-A Foundation plans to give $9 million to organizations that support education and fight homelessness. Which is commendable regardless of the company's troubled past.

"If Chick-Fil-A is serious about their pledge to stop holding hands with divisive anti-LGBTQ activists, then further transparency is needed regarding their deep ties to organizations like Focus on the Family, which exist purely to harm LGBTQ people and families," Drew Anderson, GLAAD's director of campaigns and rapid response, said in a statement.

Chick-fil-A's decision to back down from contributing to anti-LGBT charities shows the power that people have to fight back against companies by hitting them where it really hurts — the pocket book.

The question remains: If you previously avoided Chick-fil-A because it supported anti-LGBT organizations, is it now OK to eat there? Especially when Popeye's chicken sandwich is so good people will kill for it?


Oh, irony. You are having quite a day.

The Italian region of Veneto, which includes the city of Venice, is currently experiencing historic flooding. Venice Mayor Luigi Brugnaro has stated that the flooding is a direct result of climate change, with the tide measuring the highest level in 50 years. The city (which is actually a collection of 100 islands in a lagoon—hence its famous canal streets), is no stranger to regular flooding, but is currently on the brink of declaring a state of emergency as waters refuse to recede.

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