Spark Teens' Curiosity in Tech
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TechGirlz Sets World Record for Girls in Coding
Last Saturday was a record-setting day for TechGirlz, when hundreds of girls met up in person and online for Code Breakers and set two world records: one for the most girls coding at the same time in one location and one for the most girls coding in multiple locations.
“Oak Ridge, 21!” the team from Tennessee cheered over the livestream, projected into about 20 technology spaces across the country.
“Philadelphia, 70!” shouted the girls from Pennsylvania.
“I just heard from Colombia and they have 38 chicas!” said Amy Cliett, national director for TechGirlz, a non-profit dedicated to getting middle school girls interested in tech careers. “We’re doing it!”
In all, 342 middle school girls from Denver and to Durham and all the way to PSL Software labs in Itagu, Colombia, learned about image tags, uploading files and customizing fonts. While they worked together in person and virtually building websites using CSS and HTML, they were also creating two different world records.
“We’re always looking for more ways to get and keep girls excited about technology,” said TechGirlz CEO and founder Tracey Welson-Rossman. “We created the world record, and hope it will quickly be broken.”
More girls are joining programs like TechGirlz because they’re interested in tech, she said. They want to learn new skills with their friends, or see if tech can become a well-paying and empowering career. Events like Code Breakers get girls together for technology projects and show them how much fun it can be to create phone apps, play with binary code and build websites related to things they like.
TechGirlz has reached 15,000 girls through fun, hands-on tech workshops, and is on track to expand its reach to 20,000 girls by 2020. During Code Breakers, each group sounded off from their own location on a shared livestream — a way for them to feel connected and get them excited about working with other girls in tech, both in person and digitally, all around the world.
TechGirlz Sets 2 World Records in 1 Day
As the clock struck noon in New York, the coding began. Girls in grades 5 to 9 from states like Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, and Tennessee logged in to the Make a Website Using HTML/CSS workshop from TechShopz and got busy. Using a premade text editor and web browser, they edited web page templates to develop their own customized websites.
In Chicago, 20 girls filled up a large conference room 23 floors up and overlooking Lake Michigan. Data scientists from Opex Analytics volunteered for the day and helped the girls set up their computers and walk them through the basics of building a website.
“We’re going to take this website to the next level,” said Julia Greenberger, who walked the girls through list tags, headers and changing font colors. Girls from all over the city and even Indiana and Michigan came through to code in downtown Chicago. One family drove more than two hours from Holland, Michigan, to be at the event.
During Code Breakers, the girls learned first about servers, IP addresses and tags. Once they got the hang of font and background customization, they started from scratch to build their own websites.
Like all TechGirlz events, the room was full of young ladies immersed in the work, deep into their projects and talking and asking questions.
“Ultimately, a tech career is a ticket to newly empowered economic and social status for women,” said Welson-Rossman. “Coding is one part of the puzzle but serves as a fun entry point to the big world of technology careers.”
CompTIA’s tech workforce charity Creating IT Futures has been a longtime supporter of TechGirlz and its mission to train more women for the future tech workforce. The nonprofit recently acquired TechGirlz in March. “We are excited TechGirlz set not one but two world records related to girls coding,” said Charles Eaton, executive vice president, social innovation, CompTIA, and CEO, Creating IT Futures. “It’s critical that we collectively work to expand and diversify our future tech workforce.”
Free, open source technology courses can be used by anyone to inspire curiosity, impart confidence and build community as the foundation for the application of technology throughout a girl’s career and life. To try out TechShopz in a Box, including the lesson plan used during Code Breakers, visit TechGirlz.org.
—Michelle Lange is a writer and designer living in Chicago.
In spring 2016, we partnered with the global design firm IDEO to tackle the challenge of how to steer teens toward tech careers. IDEO started by reviewing the 2015 Teen Views on Tech Careers white paper from Creating IT Futures. The study surveyed low- to middle-income, urban African-American and Hispanic teens who were B or C students and parents of this demographic to find out how both groups viewed tech jobs, college, and careers. The study gave IDEO a starting point for its qualitative research.
Rather than advocating that we use a single source of information to attract teens to tech, the IDEO research convinced us to go directly to the teens. Through NextUp, teens have the chance to explore the world of technology through activities that interest them and to get to know tech professionals who love their work and want to share why they love it.
Q1What does NextUp do?NextUp creates opportunities for teens, develops excitement for technology, and builds a foundational awareness of tech careers in such a way that they will want to pursue a career in the tech industry.
Q2How does NextUp work?
We support programs that engage kids in grades 6 through 12 with tech within the context of their interests and connect them with mentors who work in the tech industry. We’ve supported 3 partner organizations: FUSE, New York Academy of Sciences and Technology Student Association, and recently acquired TechGirlz.
Q3How does NextUp build trust with teens?Influence comes from building trust. Trust is built on relationships. If we want to inspire teens to pursue tech as a profession, we need to connect them to individuals in the field who will get to know them and show them that a tech career is obtainable and accessible by many paths. We are partnering with like-minded organizations and forging partnerships to maximize available resources.
Q4How does NextUp honor youth passions and interests?We identify intersections between students’ interests and tech. We offer diverse entry points to give teens new ways to connect with technology. We guide, but don’t control teens’ choices. Emphasizing guidance rather than control helps to ensure that interactions with students and youth organizations feel genuine, neutral and welcome.
Q5What does NextUp want to accomplish?We want to dramatically increase the number of students who are exposed to tech-related roles, activities, and working professionals. Our hope is that after students finish secondary school, their experiences and the relationships they forged through NextUp will lead them to pursue studies for a tech career.
Opportunities for Volunteering & Partnering
Together, we can inspire the next generation of technologists.
NextUp has enabled 35 schools to have FUSE Studios. Teachers at those schools need tech professionals to help guide students.
TechGirlz is looking for more tech mentors and leaders to lead TechGirlz workshopz.