This High School Student is Making Computing and Business a More Equal and Better Place

Briana Berger, Founder/CEO at coderGirls

Briana Berger is a rising senior at F.W Buchholz High School in Gainesville, Florida. She is the Founder and CEO of coderGirls, an international organization to empower minority groups in technology through chapters, nationwide competitions, mentorship programs, and connecting code to passions. The coding languages that she knows are ROBOTC, Java, Python, Swift, HTML5, CSS3, JavaScript, SQL, PHP, jQuery, MITAppInventor, and Scratch. Briana is also the founder and president of SeniorTechNet to teach senior citizens how to utilize technology at local independent living facilities. She is the president of her school’s robotics team and she is on the Florida Technology Council’s Student Advisory Committee. She is the vice president of Speech and Debate, and the treasurer of her school’s Math Honor Society. Also, after seven years, she has received her second degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do and she has won four gold medals in forms and three gold medals in weapons at Florida State Championships.

How did you get to where you are today?

In all honesty, I’m in my position today because of my passion. Ever since I was a little girl, I loved to help people whether through opening doors, feeding the homeless, or now teaching girls to code. My passion for code and helping others combined when I first googled some Java tutorials in middle school.

Throughout my life, I was the kid that wanted to know the inner workings of things and was not satisfied by just the answer. The process of discovery and using code to help others is the essence of what I love about computer science and led me to where I am today.

Personally, I began to love how computer science can be mixed with anything. For example, Mark Zuckerberg wasn’t even a Computer Science major, he was a psychology major that took a lot of coding classes. Yet, his position in psychology allowed him to think of how humans want to connect with others, thus, Facebook was born.

In my case, I mix computer science with education, policy, and business. Through my position in coderGirls, I have learned and I’m still learning how to run my own nonprofit and how to educate more girls in computer science. coderGirls is an international nonprofit organization for female middle schoolers and high schoolers to be empowered in a technical career and to learn computer science. Since the beginning, I have implemented chapters and curriculum with 85 Girl Scout councils and over 350 schools to impact over 500,000 girls. In doing so, coderGirls wants to create an impact, so the main focus is for our chapters to connect computer science to doing community outreach and their passions. We have over 20 chapters in Bangladesh, Nepal, Ukraine, India, New York, Chicago, and various states to educate in their curriculum of Java, Python, C++, HTML/CSS, and more. Then, we are partnered with White House’s CSForAll, National Center for Women and Information Technology, Let’s Start Coding, CollegeBoard’s endorsed Mobile CSP, and more. With our partners, there is an impact on 900 organizations, on 30 states, and with the potential to impact 100% of U.S. girls.

Then from the policy side, I’m on the Florida Technology Council’s Student Advisory Board where I help present a unified voice to state government both in the Legislative and Executive branch on behalf of the technology sector. I mainly help advise on the Coding in the Classroom bill.

What was your toughest obstacle and how did you overcome it?

In my journey, I had to overcome the anxiety of asking people for help, whether CEOs or friends. It is hard to put yourself in that position and you have to be ready to face rejection. So, I had to learn how to structure emails and phone calls, and how to calmly face rejection.

Yet, in my process, I realized the world is more willing to help than you think. Gaining chapters, resources, and partners, it requires a lot of asking. The results? The majority of people were more than happy to help.

Then, with my experience with coderGirls, I realized that even though I’m only a teenager, I can make an impact whether locally or internationally. I realized that making an impact requires patience and determination. It tested my resolve. It kept me up late at night and prompted me to wake up early to keep working on my initiative. It taught me to keep my eyes on the goal. It taught me to manage my anxieties to balance my school life and project timeline. The one thing that kept me going was that I could make my dream into a reality. To make a code a universal bridge for communication of an idea. To have girls considered as equals in work and in society. The secret? I finally realized that all you need to change the world is a little faith, trust, and code.

What’s the key to staying focused & motivated?

My key to staying focused is to create a schedule with flexibility. Personally, each day, I schedule out hour by hour with tasks. Then, I usually have an hour scheduled out, just in case I don’t follow my schedule precisely as anything can happen during the day. In terms of motivation, I just keep looking at my goals and I continue to pursue them by aligning my daily tasks with what I want to accomplish. Also, when I work, I usually play classical music to keep my mind from wandering off.

Now, I know I sound like a schedule-maniac. Trust me, I’m not. But, in all honesty, I’m human. I’m imperfect, and sometimes I don’t follow the yellow brick road like I set out to do. But, that is the purpose of life and entrepreneurship: to explore the unknown, to think outside the box, and to follow your passions regardless of where they lead you.

What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?

The best piece of advice that I have ever received? Tough one. But, out of all the advice, I would have to say is from the book, Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, with the quote: “Hard work is a prison sentence only if it does not have meaning. Once it does, it becomes the kind of thing that makes you grab your wife around the waist and dance a jig.”

What advice do you have for someone who is looking to start a new venture?

Pursue something because it makes you wake up in the morning. Don’t pursue something for the sole purpose of fame and fortune. Pursue something that makes you excited to work and invigorates you to work harder.

How do we get more women leaders?

Through my role as a Stanford Women in Business Miss CEO Ambassador and as the CEO of coderGirls, I’m dedicated to making computing and business a more equal and better place.

Being a girl in computer science, I understand the workings of computers and programming, yet I know how to communicate. Being in Speech and Debate, I have been taught to present my ideas in a clear, understandable fashion, while also using rhetoric to relate to an audience. My position of being a young teenager in the century of technology gives me a vital role to communicate the needs of my demographic and to be at the forefront of business and computer science. In whatever I do, I put my heart into it, whether it is baking delicious cookies (while eating cookie dough in the process) or discussing technology legislation with Senators.

Personally, to get more women to join leadership roles, we have to show them how being a leader allows you to have an impact. The essence of business is to create a service, a product, or company to enact change. We have to show women that being a leader allows you to blend your passions and to demonstrate to younger girls that being a changemaker is possible. You don’t have to be a certain gender to make the next app, nonprofit, or Fortune 500. You can

Originally published at by Meral Arik on June 7, 2017.