“I want to learn how to code, but I don’t know how.”
Throughout my life, the topic of “learning to code” had been discussed multiple times, but no action had been taken. In elementary school, we all thought it was the thing that smart people did in front of a computer all day for the rest of their lives, and it became something that wasn’t discussed as a future career option. In middle school, it was the topic that appeared in casual conversations about “things we wanted to learn one day” —
“Wouldn’t it be so cool to be able to code? Like, you can make your own games and apps, even websites…”
“Yeah… but it seems really hard.”
“True, and I don’t know anybody who knows how to code.”
In high school, it isn’t discussed at all. We are too busy to even think about other things we want to do — we have already invested our time in school work, sports, and clubs. What’s the point? I need that 4.0 GPA to go to a good college, and this sport and these clubs will boost my extracurricular background so colleges will think I’m involved in my community outside of school.
What if we focused on doing something because we love it and not for the recognition or reputation?
This past summer, I had the privilege of attending a 2-week summer camp called “Kode With Klossy”, where girls 13–18 years old would learn Ruby, HTML, and CSS together in a classroom. It was one of the best experiences in my entire life. This program showed me that we all had the potential to learn to code, and even after only 10 days of learning, we were able to create a fully-functional web application.
The one thing that stood out to me is the fact that code is powerful. With just a few lines of code, we could create patterns in our terminals with stars, or take in user input and receive a response back from the computer. We could also change the background color of a basic HTML page, mess with the font and size of text, and add a ton of random images and GIFs of birds with human arms or goats playing around in the snow. The best part is, we had so much fun doing it.
So, once I left Kode With Klossy and returned to school, I wanted to get more involved with coding, but then I looked around me. My school does not offer any computer science classes, and there are no clubs at my school promoting computer science. The only people I knew that also knew how to code are the girls that I met in the program. What’s going on?
According to the National Center for Women & Information Technology, it is estimated that 1.4 million computing jobs will have opened in the United States between 2008 and 2018, but with the current graduation rates, only 61% of these jobs will be filled. And, according to CODE.org, a computer science major can earn 40% more than the college average. As technology develops more and more in this new age, we need more people to create the tech startups, develop the new apps, and start the new websites. One of the main reasons that people do not take the initiative to study computer science in college is because they were not introduced to it in elementary, middle, or high school. They find an interest in something else that they already explored, such as an academic class, film, journalism, or a department in the fine arts, just to name a few. In order to encourage more students into the computing field, we have to allow them to learn to code and have fun with it while they still have time to explore their interests.
While I code with Ruby or with HTML/CSS in my free time or with my dad, my 10 year old sister likes to watch us and see what we do. She finds it fascinating that we are taking random symbols and words and creating something cool, so she asked me if I could teach her some of the skills that I have picked up this summer. I started to introduce her to HTML and CSS, and she loved it. We spent over an hour putting together a website that had large, random words all over the place with pictures of cute foxes. While I inspired her, she also inspired me. I want to see this reaction with younger kids everywhere, because even one hour of being creative with code can turn into more coding classes and even a future career in computer science.
What can we do to get these kids involved? Many existing programs encourage girls to learn how to code, including Girls Who Code, Black Girls Code, and the aforementioned Kode With Klossy. And while these programs and camps target girls as women only make up 15% of the tech workforce, co-ed clubs, which allow boys and girls to collaborate and learn to code in an environment where both genders treat each other equally, should also be a priority, like CoderDojo or Google CS First. Then, both genders receive equal opportunities to code and learn without fear of gender stereotypes in the classroom.
The effort must come from the community to encourage the next generation to learn coding skills. This means that adults should not discourage children because “they’re a girl” or “they’re not good at math”. This also means that educators and students with a basic knowledge of coding should encourage younger students to code by starting a club/program or helping out a younger friend or sibling with coding.
Together, not only can we inspire and provide a new interest to students through code, but we can also decrease the amount of gender bias in the coding classroom as well as equip the next generation with crucial skills needed to succeed in the new age of technology.