Girls Who Code: Getting women to love computer science

'Girls Who Code' Summer Immersion Program in Austin. (KXAN Photo/Todd Bynum)
'Girls Who Code' Summer Immersion Program in Austin. (KXAN Photo/Todd Bynum)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — It’s not your typical summer camp. On Thursday, 19 Austin girls are getting ready to graduate from a seven-week program aimed at computer science.

The ‘Girls Who Code‘ Summer Immersion Program, hosted at AT&T’s office in Austin, offered rising 11th and 12th-grade girls 300-plus hours of immersive instruction in web development and design, robotics and mobile development with mentorship and exposure to top female engineers and entrepreneurs.

“I never thought I’d be able to design a website but I have,” said Melanie Peavy, senior at Cedar Creek High School.

It’s one thing to browse a website, it’s another to build one. But the girls who code are up to the challenge.

“My group of friends here was talking and joking about how we wanted to take a nap. The idea popped up about hey, we should make a nap website just so we could test out the ideas,” said Sanyoni Desai.

From there, it became a real idea, with a real product — to help sleep deprived college students through a website called Sheep. It tells you how much sleep to get during a nap, plays soothing music and healthy foods that will help you get better sleep.

“Taking a nap for 20 minutes, you’ll be energized, refreshed it’s easy to wake up from, but 30 minutes leaves you groggy,” Desai said.

Behind it all, is finding the formula to keep girls interested in STEM subjects, from science and technology to engineering and math.

“We should be able to say ‘oh look, there’s a girl that codes, that’s normal,'” Peavy said.

Since tech firms are overwhelmingly male, these summer programs aim to close the gender gap. Right now, women make up the majority of the labor force nationwide but hold only 25 percent of the jobs in computing and technical fields. By 2020, there will be 1.4 million jobs available in those fields, but women are only on pace to fill 3 percent of the positions.

“It’s crucially important because their voices and perspectives are missing right now, they need to recognize there are no limitations,” said Austin Mayor Steve Adler while he visited the Girls Who Code camp.

It’s not all coding at Girls Who Code. Networking with women is essential, too. AT&T set up a Girls Who Code Alumni Network so the girls can stay in touch and help with potential job connections.

 

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