Girls Who Code: Securing the Future of Women in Technology

Susan Malaika works in the open technology group which is focused on increasing IBM’s contribution and adoption of open source software. She also leads an IBM Academy Affiliate in the New York area which conducts local technology-related activities such as the blockchain hackathon in October 2016.

Susan had the pleasure to talk with students of Girls Who Code summer immersion program in NYC and, in this article, she shares with us some of their creative projects and how IBM is supporting this initiative.

Currently, only 18% of all computer science graduates in the US are women. By 2020, female US graduates are on track to fill just 3% of the expected 1.4 million jobs available in computing related fields. Girls Who Code a US-based non-profit organization, founded in 2012, is dedicated to closing this gender gap in technology.  They run school clubs and summer immersion programs to teach girls to code and build a pipeline for engineers. They have reached 10,000 girls in 42 states.

In 2016, IBM sponsored four of the Girls Who Code summer programs in Los Angeles, the Bay Area, Austin, and NYC. IBM provided speakers, workshops (e.g. Bluemix), field trips, and mentors to augment the framework offered by Girls Who Code.

At the Girls Who Code summer school in NYC, 20 students in 10-11th grade (about 16 years old) from New York and New Jersey had completed 5 weeks of their 7 week camp. They had learned Scratch, Python, Pygame, HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. The day I was with them, they were working on robotics and Arduino. They also had workshops on Design Thinking and Bluemix and had spent two hours with IBM Watson at Astor Place which they thought was cool. All the students had IBM mentors, and their instructors emphasized that the importance of proactively keeping in contact with their mentors even after the program ends. The students were lively, devoted to computing, and great to be with. Many said that if they were not in the immersion program, they would have been working in a store or similar over the summer.

girls-who-code

The Girls Who Code summer school graduation was a lot of fun. IBM VP Suzanne Dann gave an excellent motivational keynote, saying that women in STEM earn 33% more than women in other fields. The students then gave their pitches, with most using CSS, HTML, JavaScript and JQuery in their projects. Some of the projects incorporated Google Map APIs, Watson text-to-speech and speech-to-text, and Watson conversation services.

The students presented very interesting project pitches; here are just some of them:

• Connected : Support people with autism
• Easy-Eatz : Help people select and prepare healthy food
• First-Aid : Assist first responders
• Foodie : A restaurant app for anyone who loves food
• Learn-Inglés : Help people who can’t speak English with every-day situations
• Plan-it : Make plans together collaboratively in groups

The students were thrilled with their summer experience – and so were their parents and families. With many of them saying they wanted to study computer science, this is a step closer to the goal of closing the gender gap in technology.


Find out more about how IBM supports Women in Technology.

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