Why Code Chica?
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, by the time girls in middle school now go to college, there will be one million more computer science jobs than computer scientists to fill them. When we look at the number of females pursuing that career path, things look bleak, women of color pursuing technology – nearly nil . Less than one percent of high school girls express interest in majoring in computer science in college and the American Association of University Women reports only 19 percent of computer and information-science majors are currently women, less than one percent of engineers right now are Hispanic women.
Latinitas Empowering Using Media and Techology!
To combat the current underrepresentation of women in the tech industry, Latinitas, in a partnership with Google’s Made with Code campaign, developed the Code Chica Conference with the aim of getting girls excited about coding and sparking an interest in tech jobs. The first Code Chica conference was held on October 25, 2014 at Austin Community College’s Eastview Campus. Sixty girls and teens at the conference were introduced to coding with the help of professionals and graduates from local coding academy MakerSquare who facilitated the coding seminars throughout the course of the day.
Kick off! The event kicked off with a key note address from Latina engineer Karen Siles who spoke about being one of the few female employees with her job title at IBM in Austin, TX. She shared, “There is jobs waiting to be filled by a qualified woman candidate. The issue is not that there is not jobs for women in technology, the issue is that women are not choosing to take the path of attaining degrees in computer science.” Tung Huynh, an admissions recruiter at ACC Eastview, also spoke about working in tech with just one female colleague. His company eventually hired more women who became some of the best product managers, coders, developers, engineers, account managers, and sales directors. He explained, “That’s the whole funny thing about this- girls are shy about competing and then they come in and they do better than the guys do.” Similar to Siles experience, there were more jobs than women applying. He said, “I think today is going to go a long way towards changing that.”
Girls were introduced to the concept of coding as a means to create actions with a visual demonstration of a robot. One of the Makersquare seminar facilitators pretended to be a robot and the girls had to direct the robot to the door. Then, they visited a Disney website and were guided through the process of using code to change a website, font colors and sizes, and delete pictures. They also used an online web based coding platform and CSS to embed video games. Girls expressed excitement as they passed from one level to the next.
Women in Tech at Lunch
At lunch girls were visited by many local powerful women in technology today. These women shared their personal, academic and professional journeys in technology. The roundtable set up made the connections more personal and powerful. Women came from Rackspace, Google, Dell, BB&T Bank, local PBS station KLRU-TV, Accruent and start ups like Stretchrecipes.com and SheHacksATX. . Miczeh Reeze (A code chica) expressed how she will remember how the speakers gave inspiring quotes to follow their dreams.” Jackie Lopez also noted,” The one thing that I will remember from this event are the people that visited the tables.”
Miranda Dawn from TV’s “The Voice”
It wouldn’t be a Code Chica event without having just as much “chica” as coding and so Latinitas welcomed former volunteer and current alumni from last seasons’ “The Voice,” Miranda Dawn (Miranda Oropeza), a singer/songwriter and member of her own band Dawn and Hawkes. She performed but also invited girls on-stage.
When the “Code Chicas” returned to their assigned computer labs, they continued coding and practiced manipulating code by changing the Latinitas website. Over 60% of the attendees surveyed said they had never been to an event like this. Many of them expressed how they wished they had Latinitas at their schools. Several of the girls were also active members of Latinitas clubs and camps and expressed excitement about Code Chica. When asked if they would tell their friends about Latinitas programs and events, surveys showed a resounding “yes!” Seventh grader Elizabeth Hernandez said, “I would absolutely tell my friends about Latinitas because it’s a place where girls can dream big and have fun.” She also said,”I liked the fact that girls were able to connect with technology.”
Code Chica presented coding on girls’ terms through fun exercises that incorporated some of their favorite brands and videos. Coding was demystified for many girls and thanks to dedicated instructors, lunchtime career presenters and Latinitas model of empowerment, more chicas in Austin are putting themselves into the shoes of developers, designers and definitely: coders.