Three years ago a dear friend sent me a link to an article. “This sounds up your alley,” she said. It was about an initiative to get high school girls into programming. As a female software engineer who went through her computer science classes surrounded by men, I was intrigued.
Girls Who Code invites women and men—developers or not—to volunteer their time and introduce programming concepts to young women, with a goal of closing the gender gap in computer science. That summer I filled out an application to be an instructor at a school on the Upper East Side and this month I will wrap up my third school year as a Girls Who Code instructor at Dominican Academy. I cannot believe how fast the time has gone.
We keep the class low-key and open to each individual’s preferences. Some of the girls prefer to follow the programming lessons on their own and ask me questions only when they get stuck. Others rarely open their laptops; they want to discuss college, majors, careers, money. At this point, there are young women I have known longer than my coworkers, who are so busy rocking their classes and other activities that they sometimes just stop by to say hello. All of these approaches work for me. My primary goal is to introduce these young women to a new career option and encourage them to pursue their brightest future, whatever that path may be.
Sometimes in place of a regular meeting, we take field trips or host guest speakers. This past year, two highlights were hosting speakers from Estee Lauder (who, yes, brought samples!) and a visit to Clearpool’s office. I knew it was important for the girls to see a workplace that made them think “I can do this too,” and it was clear that it worked from the onset. The first fifteen minutes were spent exclusively taking selfies with the gorgeous view from our conference room as the backdrop. After that, the club broke up into groups and participated in a variety of activities led by my coworkers, including designing and testing domino chains, drawing user interfaces for sample websites and playing the stock market using pennies and M&Ms. While the girls were ready to come back every week, I told them we’d do it again next year, for sure.
In addition to the gratification I feel from working with such inspiring young women, Girls Who Code has provided me with opportunities to meet other women developers and help to expand the reach of its mission. The same friend who sent me that initial article teaches in Columbus, Ohio and just finished up her first year with a club there. Through the Teacher Advisory Board, I have been invited to visit the Girls Who Code office, give feedback on different aspects of the program and join my fellow instructors in shamelessly bragging about how amazing our girls are (DA girls are the best, of course).
Being both a promoter and role model to these incredible young women is a responsibility that I take seriously, while also enjoying it to the fullest extent. My own career aspirations mean little if I do not also use that drive to do my part in closing the programming gender gap. I am also proud to work at a company that recognizes the value programmers bring to the organization and that values and prioritizes diversity and inclusion. This year Clearpool has demonstrated its support of my passion and the Girls Who Code organization by sponsoring three students for this year’s campus summer program.
Within the past two graduating classes, three young women have opted to begin their college experience majoring in computer science. I hope to see that number continue to climb. In the meantime, as long as all the club’s participants—aspiring programmers or otherwise—know that I am only ever an email away, then my Girls Who Code purpose is fulfilled.