A robot built in the Girls Who Code classroom.
Bridging the digital dive: Girls' club learns code
Story and photos by Sherry Mazzocchi
Video by Sherry Mazzocchi
Before Khady Samb moved to the Bronx from Senegal, she'd never seen a robot. Now she's learning how to build one.
Samb, a 16-year old high school sophomore, is learning about nested for loops and if-then statements at Girls Who Code.
The eight-week class teaches 20 high school girls from all over the city programming languages, smartphone apps, website design and robotics.
In Senegal, Samb wasn't even allowed to use a computer.
"I was lucky to find a place like this," she said.
Created by former New York Deputy Public Advocate Reshma Saujani, Girls Who Code has ambitious goals.
It aims to inspire a love of science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, in young women.
Even though over half of all college and graduate students are female, few of them major in STEM subjects. In college, few women major in STEM subjects. That leaves women out of the technology field. The overwhelming majority of the high-paying jobs in the booming tech sector go to men.
In addition to a gender divide, the city also has a digital divide.
Not all New York City public schools provide computers for children and even fewer teach programming. Discrepancies like this prevent entire communities from getting a head start in computer education.
"We still have kids in our city that don't have access to computers at school or at home," Saujani said. "They are not building a skills base in these fields and there's a huge technology divide."
Shimme Siddika, 17, never used a computer until she moved with her family from Bangladesh to East Harlem. Like most teens, she spends time on Facebook,
YouTube and Google.
Now she's learning software programs and how to build websites. "Photoshop is my favorite," Siddka said. "I like to design things."
Girls Who Code is a public-private partnership. Their board is who's who of tech talent—including executives from Twitter, Gilt Groupe, eBay and the venture capital funder Metamorphic Ventures.
Tech executives like Jessica Lawrence also want to reduce the imbalance between men and women. Lawrence, managing director of the NY Tech Meetup, said the Girl Scout Research Institute found that most girls are interested in STEM.
"But we don't do enough to nurture that interest and give them the support and avenues for learning they need to have successful careers in those areas," Lawrence said. "Girls Who Code is helping to change that."
The program is still in a pilot phase. Saujani eventually wants to include boys in the program and plans to roll it out in other cities across the U.S.
Saujani deliberately sought out girls with little or no tech background. By the end of the summer, the students will be good candidates for highly coveted internships
When Leigh Ann Sudol-DeLyser designed the curriculum, she asked tech executives what skills they look in prospective interns.
The young women are learning to program robots in a language called Scratch, developed at the MIT Media Lab. "The robot offers them a really great visual tool for the code that they are writing," Sudol-DeLyser said.
Jocelyn Stevens is enjoying summer school. The 16-year-old Mott Haven resident said so far it's been both interesting and fun.
"We've been coding and programming and learning about robots," she said.
This is her first experience with coding, but she's always been good at math.
"My father always told me, 'If you love money, you like math,'" she said. "And I love money, so I guess I like math."
Williamsbridge teen Arianna Alleyne said her friends were skeptical about the value of spending an entire summer in a classroom learning programming languages.
"This can benefit you in the future," she told them. "You learn new things. You can do so much with the information you take in during the eight weeks—when you'd just be at home watching TV."
No one had to convince Samb of the program's virtues. She came to the program not knowing anyone, but quickly made a lot of new friends. "They are all like my sisters," she said.
In Senegal, Samb dreamed about using computers.
"So now, I'm learning," she said. "Nobody is ever going to tell me not to use it."
To hear directly from the young women in Girls Who Code, please visit http://bit.ly/MT_052.
For more information on the organization, please visit www.girlswhocode.com.