When it comes to representation in the world of computer science, women have little to go on. Girls Who Code, a national nonprofit organization, wants to dismantle this reality by giving school-aged girls the resources and experience they need to succeed in this male-dominated industry. Girls Who Code is able to administer a computing enriched curriculum with the help of public and private sponsors, who provide laptops to the students, and spaces for them to work.
I met with Amy Yin, the lead coordinator for the San Francisco chapter of Girls Who Code, and discussed the organization's overall objective and its powerful impact on the students who attend. Yin, a Harvard University graduate with a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Science, has been teaching with Girls Who Code for three years. Yin is employed as a software engineer with the San Francisco startup, Coinbase. The company, which helps people transact digital currency, is also contributing funds to this year's classes. “Coinbase is excited about promoting more women in technology and giving back to the community,” said Yin.
Classes are held once a week at the Ortega Branch Library in San Francisco’s Sunset District; most of the girls who attend these meetings are sixth-grade students from A.P. Giannini middle school, located directly next to the library. Allison Phillips, one of the six coordinators working with Yin, stated that for the last four years, the Ortega library has actually provided all the laptops and other technological resources for each meeting. Students are encouraged to bring their own laptops; however, many still rely on the equipment loaned by the library.
Together with the Ortega Library and Coinbase, Girls Who Code is able to ensure a solid foundation for the students to explore and grow their computing knowledge. “Our mission is to get more girls excited about technology. We want to empower them, and make them feel like they’re part of a sisterhood, and inspire them to do more engineering and technology,” Yin said excitedly, “The students are here because they have a lot of fun, and their parents are also really dedicated.” Sophia Peckner, a 12-year-old student from A.P. Giannini middle school, said her own mother’s career as a software engineer is what inspired her to take the class and get more involved with computer science. Mrs. Peckner, who laughed upon hearing this, stated she was just excited her daughter showed interest in the subject without being pressured to join. Sophia will soon finish her second year with Girls Who Code.
Yin said the classes are not really classes at all, and can be viewed more like “office hours.” The curriculum is completely online-based, and coordinators are there to help answer any questions and steer thought-provoking discussions meant to get the girls thinking outside the box: “They aren’t classes in the traditional sense of the word. We do have occasional lessons and small presentations, with a lot of activities that promote sisterhood and bonding, but we act mostly as facilitators, and we like to think of this as more of a club than a classroom”, Yin stated.
However, Yin also told me that if it were not for the library, attendance would be almost nonexistent. Yin said, “For me, as an adult, I don't have a strong network of middle school and high school parents. I wanted to start multiple clubs, but couldn't get enough students to join. That’s why doing it at the library is amazing, because the library is so good at getting students aware of the program. They’re the ones who do all the marketing and outreach, which is the difficult part for me. We’re the engineers; we know how to teach and do the coding, we don’t know how to do the community outreach and get students to sign up.”
Such outreach included signup sheets around A.P. Giannini middle school, informing students of the program’s opportunities. Many students from all over the Bay Area also attend the weekly classes, with the library’s marketing reaching above and beyond to get students involved.
The atmosphere in the classroom was palpable. There was a lot of laughter and loud conversation going on between the girls, and the excitement of their voices rang heavily in that small backroom of the library. Parents shuffled in and out as they picked up their daughters, many asking how the class went and what they had learned that night.
I asked Yin — given the influence and authority that men have accrued in this industry — how important are programs like Girls Who Code for the development and representation of female engineers? She stated that these programs are crucial to the advancement of women in computer science, emphasizing the importance of getting young girls interested early on, and making sure they have access to the appropriate resources. She added that by just being aware of these opportunities, and knowing they’re available, young girls can maintain the confidence necessary to pursue academics and careers that may not have seemed accessible to them before.
Editor’s Note: Girls in the grades 6-12 can participate in the sessions at the Ortega library. More information can be obtained by contacting email@example.com
, (415)355-5700, or Hanna Koh, an instructor. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org
More information about Girls can Code can be found at the national website, https://girlswhocode.com/
. Coding clubs are located throughout the city, and information about these can be found at https://girlswhocode.com/locations/. More than 60 companies have pledged to hire Girls Who Code alumni; more information can be found about this at https://girlswhocode.com/hiremeannouncement/. Information about the summer immersion program can be found at https://girlswhocode.com/locations/
Girls Who Code is also part of the youth learning program at SFPL, which can be reached at this link: http://sfpl.org/index.php?pg=1025225601
. More information can also be obtained by contacting Cathy Cormier, Teen Center Manager, (415) 437-4857, or email@example.com