One group created a website to help sexual-assault survivors. Another launched an online forum to engage teenagers in politics. And then there was the educational game that spewed out facts about the environment as players progressed.
The Web coders behind the projects? All teenage girls.
These ideas emerged from a seven-week Girls Who Code Summer Immersion Program — a camp aimed at encouraging more women to enter technology fields and challenging the stereotype that computer programming is just for men.
By 2020, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates there will be 1.4 million computer science job openings but just 400,000 people with the skills to fill them. Girls Who Code, a national nonprofit organization, says girls are on track to fill just 3 percent of those jobs. The growing organization hopes to close this gap, and it has provided coding instruction to more than 10,000 high school girls in camps and after-school programs nationwide since its founding in 2012.
Kristin Marshall, 15, experienced the excitement and energy of coding that the organization hopes others will see when they use their new skills to make something tangible.
“It's amazing,” Kristin said, explaining how she used coding to launch a website that will help users find the proper makeup for their skin type. “We’ve been working on this for two days, and we literally just got it a few minutes ago, and it was the best feeling.”
The D.C. camp, which drew 120 teens this year from the city and its Maryland and Virginia suburbs, is free for all students to attend. Corporate sponsors, including BSA (The Software Alliance) and Lockheed Martin, pay for staff salaries and field trips. Georgetown University donates space for the camp in its downtown continuing-education building.
“I am firmly of the view that if we have more girls coding, and more girls working in software development, that our coding will be more innovative, more creative and more secure,” said Victoria Espinel, BSA’s CEO. “By the time these girls have gone through the seven weeks, they have learned how to build websites, they’ve created apps, they’ve made robots dance.”
Throughout the seven-week course, the students took fields trips to Capitol Hill and Symantec Corp., a cybersecurity firm. Female speakers from Microsoft, IBM and NASA also came to the classes to share their experiences.
“Coding was never something that was a train of thought for me because I always wanted to be a psychologist,” said Willitta Cooper, a rising junior from Montgomery County. “But now I see how I can use coding in that by creating programs for kids.”
“The hardest part was just making our project into an app because we didn’t learn the languages of an app,” said Rachel Kondrat, 17, who was part of the team that made the makeup app. “So we spent a lot of time learning the language. Now, we’re excited to get to the aesthetics of it.”
Students could choose to create a website or app on any topic they wished. They will present the final product during a graduation ceremony this week.
“We’re the next generation, so why not start now to make changes,” said Riittisha Choudhary, a 16-year-old who was part of a team that created PoliTeens!, a forum and call to action for teens who feel voiceless in the political process.