Empowering young women in tech

communities / Article

Today, Knight Foundation is announcing funding to bring Girls Who Code to San Jose, Detroit and Miami. Here founder Reshma Saujani talks about the program.

Last July, I stood in front of 16-year-old Lesley and promised her a world of opportunity. A young Latina from Queens, Lesley was selected to participate in the inaugural class of Girls Who Code, a program I founded to empower young women like her with the skills for economic opportunity and civic engagement. She came eager to learn and motivated by the opportunity to give back to her community.

Over the next eight weeks, Lesley and 19 of her peers spent eight hours a day with us at the offices of AppNexus, a New York-based startup. Here, Lesley worked with Girls Who Code instructors to learn to program robots in Python, build websites in HTML and video games in JavaScript. She learned about entrepreneurship, what it means to build a product and how to pitch to investors.

She and her peers built a mobile app to help handicapped New Yorkers navigate the city’s streets and subways, a Twitter application to organize book clubs with peers across the country, and a website to connect ESL students with peer tutors to learn English outside of school. They built a video game that their friends were playing before it was even finished, and wrote an algorithm to help determine whether a tumor is malignant or benign.

Lesley met with female engineers and entrepreneurs at the top of their fields, and worked with Computer Science majors at top universities to help navigate the college application process. She and her newfound friends envisioned a new future for themselves as they toured the halls of GoogleTwitterFacebookFoursquare and Gilt Groupe.

They fell in love with computer science.

On graduation night at Google, each of the young women proudly demoed their final projects for an audience of engineers, educators and community leaders. Many were offered jobs and internships. Others, like Lesley, already had plans.

Today, six months later, Lesley is building a website for the Laundromat on her block in Queens. She’s teaching a Photoshop course at her school in Astoria. She was recently named a finalist in the National Center for Women In Technology Awards—a prestigious honor for young women in computer science. This fall, she was invited to the White House to tell her story. Next year, Lesley will go off to college.

Following the Girls Who Code program, Lesley plans to major in computer science. She tells us that she wants to be a computer science teacher. She wants to give other young women the opportunities that Girls Who Code afforded her.

In 2020, the U.S. Department of Labor projects there to be 1.5 million computing job openings, yet at current rates the United States is only expected to produce enough qualified candidates to fill 29% of these jobs. Thanks to Girls Who Code, Lesley is one of them. 

This is why today, we are thrilled to announce the Knight Foundation’s generous support of Girls Who Code, an investment that will enable us to expand programming to cities across the United States. This summer, we’ll be working to inspire, educate and empower young women like Lesley in Detroit and San Jose, with plans to launch in Miami in 2014.

Lesley’s story is the first of many to come, and we look forward to sharing successes and learnings from Detroit and San Jose this summer.

By Reshma Saujani, founder of Girls Who Code 

Related: "Girls Who Code expands across the US with summer programs in Detroit, San Jose and Miami" in The Next Web

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