Tinkering With Tech: A STEM Workshop To Encourage Girls To Code

Our Q&A with Vanessa Doake, co-founder and COO of Code Like a Girl, on the importance of events and workshops to encourage girls to code.

Tinkering With Tech: A STEM Workshop To Encourage Girls To Code

In our recent chat with Emily Tuteur (Director of Product Design at NY-based tech-education startup littleBits), we learned about an upcoming littleBits workshop, in partnership with Aussie organization Code Like a Girl. To know more about the event/workshop, other platforms for girls and women interested in STEM, and Code Like a Girl’s overall vision, we caught up with co-founder and COO Vanessa Doake for a Q&A.

WLT: I read about the upcoming workshop on October 1, and it sounds like such an amazing day of learning combined with fun. And the littleBits products are so incredibly smart and creative! At the end of such a day, what’s the best outcome for you and Code Like a Girl, in terms of what you’d like to see participants gain from the workshop?

VD: We’re really excited to be partnering with littleBits for a workshop. Their kits are a great way to get kids engaged and inventing with tech from an early age. littleBits also share our mission to empower the next generation of girls to be creators and inventors of future technology, so the partnership was an obvious choice and the workshop came together seamlessly. We hope the girls attending the Tinkering with Tech workshop on October 1, or any Code Like a Girl workshop, have fun, make friends with like-minded girls who love tech, and leave feeling inspired and capable in the world of technology.

WLT: I know that you and Ally have said before that Code Like a Girl is not just about ‘women in tech’, but also focusing on ‘women building tech’ and ‘women creating tech.’ Can you speak to that a little more? 

VD: Broadly speaking, a lack of women working in the tech industry is really no different than the lack of women working in automotive, or engineering, or at leadership level in almost any industry. What makes the lack of women building technology such an important issue is largely the fact that if we don’t have diverse teams building technology, it’s likely their needs won’t be catered for in the development of digital products and services we are increasingly reliant on. A great example of this is Apple’s oversight in the development of the health tracking app ‘HealthKit’ where they failed to include a period tracker.

What makes the lack of women building technology such an important issue is largely the fact that if we don’t have diverse teams building technology, it’s likely their needs won’t be catered for in the development of digital products and services we are increasingly reliant on

WLT: What do you feel is an important reason for the low numbers of women in STEM fields? Is it a lack of sufficient role models or the access to platforms such as Code Like a Girl, or something else entirely?

VD: I believe there are several causes for the low numbers of women in STEM fields, a lack of role models is certainly one. As Marian Wright Edelman famously said “You can’t be what you can’t see.”

Also adding to the issue are gender-based stereotypes that occur from a young age, which tend to encourage boys to pursue STEM activities, and girls to follow more domestic pursuits. Walking down a toy or magazine aisle and observing the glaring differences in how we communicate to young boys and girls – encouraging them to develop interests and skills in a polarising and gender-stereotyping way – is a sobering example of how we really do set the bar at different heights for boys and girls. This is one area our friends at littleBits have really shaken up. Gender neutrality is a design principle close to their heart. From the way their products are designed, how it’s marketed, right through to the people they partner with, littleBits are committed to breaking down gender stereotypes and positioning creativity with tech as a universal skill.

Walking down a toy or magazine aisle and observing the glaring differences in how we communicate to young boys and girls…is a sobering example of how we really do set the bar at different heights for boys and girls

WLT: What does a typical Code Like a Girl event or workshop usually look like?

VD: Workshops: We create an environment that is inclusive – where any girl, from any background, is supported by female role models working in the tech industry.

We create an environment that is accessible regardless of your economic background – cost is not a barrier to attend our workshops or events – and we work hard to present information that’s engaging and without jargon, to help dispel the myth that you need high intelligence to succeed. We firmly believe that dedication and hard work is equal to intelligence.

But also, we ensure that what we teach is fun! We focus on conveying our passion about something that is full of wonder, opportunity and creativity. Rarely are those same traits conveyed in traditional classroom education – coding education in schools is presented in a way that makes it unappealing. Our education system needs to find more ways to make technology engaging.

We not only teach girls computational thinking and coding skills but we put a great emphasis on empowering young girls to feel confident and inspired by technology.

Our workshops go beyond ‘drag and drop’ programming platforms and we teach girls from as young as 8, industry languages like HTML and CSS or Python.

Coding education in schools is presented in a way that makes it unappealing. Our education system needs to find more ways to make technology engaging…Our workshops go beyond ‘drag and drop’ programming platforms and we teach girls from as young as 8, industry languages like HTML and CSS or Python

Events: Our events are a space where anyone can learn about tech in an environment that’s warm, non-intimidating, and welcoming. It’s an opportunity for women working in coding roles to be inspired, find networks and opportunities to propel their careers. No prior experience is required.  

WLT: What ages do you hold these events and workshops for? Are there specific events tailored for women in their 20s and 30s, who might want to equip themselves with useful tech skills to boost their careers?

VD: Junior workshops start from girls aged 8, adult workshops are for any woman over 16 years old.  A lot of our adult workshop and event attendees are from a young professional age bracket.

WLT: As someone who’s not from a “tech” background, what has your personal experience and journey been like, with Code Like a Girl? Do you feel the need to develop more hardcore tech skills for yourself, now that you’re part of such a wonderful STEM-based organisation?

VD: Coding is a critical skill to learn, and while I didn’t start my coding journey as a child or at university, it is something that I’ve actively sought to learn as an adult. While I don’t foresee myself becoming a full-stack developer anytime soon, I think there is a spectrum of digital literacy and understanding that is valuable for everyone to hold. Similar to how everyone to an extent has an ability to use, understand, and (for some) to build a computer, the same will be said about coding.

Similar to how everyone to an extent has an ability to use, understand, and (for some) to build a computer, the same will be said about coding

WLT: What’s next for Code Like a Girl? Where do you see it positioned in the next 3-5 years?  

VD: Our mission is to empower girls and women to be equal creators in building the future. Over the next 3 to 5 years we’ll be committing ourselves to doing everything we can to close the gender gap in tech. This will be through a variety of education opportunities for children and adults, connecting women in tech to find their tribe and build a community to flourish in the world of tech, and supporting women to find outstanding organisations to work for, that have diversity and inclusivity at the heart of their business. We’ll also be providing further opportunities and support to organisations to assist them to find highly skilled and diverse technical talent, and to create environments in which women can build rewarding careers.

Sneha Khale
With a background in Psychology and Criminology, Sneha has spent the past several years working in the travel and tech industries. As a writer and editor, she's most interested in developing content which is at the intersection of pop culture, gender, and contemporary lifestyle. "Don't let your 'to do' list get longer than your Netflix 'to watch' queue," is her philosophy for 2018.

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