Giving girls the code to a life in computing and engineering

Girls learn to code as part of Girls Who Code.
Girls learn to code as part of Girls Who Code. 

An organisation encouraging young girls to develop an interest in computer science and engineering aims to bridge the gap in the number of women and men employed in computing fields, whether as engineers or developers.

Girls Who Code is a New York-based non-profit with the aim of providing an education in computer science to 1 million young women by 2020.

That target is driven by figures suggesting just 0.8 per cent of women graduating from American colleges received a degree in computer science and another claim that even fewer girls of high school age in the US are interested in studying computer science in college.

Reshma Saujani, founder and chief executive officer of Girls Who Code.
Reshma Saujani, founder and chief executive officer of Girls Who Code. 

The numbers are alarming when the demand for engineers and code-savvy graduates is taken into consideration - it is estimated over 1.4 million computer science jobs will be created in the US in the next five years.

"Those numbers are abysmal, they are very low," said Reshma Saujani, founder and chief executive officer (CEO) of Girls Who Code.

"I want the CEOs of the future to be women and the only way we are going to do that is to create a pipeline and train that next generation to not be afraid of the technology.

"Women can't simply be consumers of technology - we have to be creators of it."

Saujani, a former lawyer who ran for US Congress in 2010 on a platform promoting policies boosting innovation and jobs, points to the female employment revolution in medical and legal fields as an example to provoke change within the technology industry.

"In the 1970s, 10 per cent of doctors and lawyers were women and in less than 40 years that number is now almost at 40 per cent," she said.


"Eleven year olds are enthusiastic but in teen years that motivation is often lost. It is culture. They are watching TV, they are not seeing role models that look like them, they are getting messages from parents and teachers that they 'will go into the humanities'.

"There are all these messages that computer science is not for them. High school boys all want to be hackers and it is a cool thing to do. The same thing is not happening with women."

Girls Who Code receives funding from within technology and associated industries - Twitter, GE, Google, Goldman Sachs, eBay, Intel, and Craigslist are among several financial backers - but the challenge is engaging government, according to Saujani.

"Private companies see what is happening," she said. "That should be an example to government. [Private companies] know they have a supply issue and they want to fix it."

Rebecca Collins, an 11-year-old from Brooklyn who attended a school field trip sponsored by GWC to Facebook’s New York City office, said the visit demonstrated real world examples of how her own fast-developing coding skills can be applied.

"If girls want to code and they are interested in coding they should absolutely go into that area," said Collins.

"We should try to work [computer science] into the curriculum more so that people who are interested in it get a chance to see what it is like."

Collins said her class of 30 students included 10 girls but wasn't yet aware of any gender divide.

"My class is really nerdy so the boys and the girls are all interested in the same thing."

The bigger current challenge? A keyboard.

"Typing when you are 11 is hard and really tiring," she said.