Author Reshma Saujani decided to do something about the gender gap when it comes to those who code. She created Girls Who Code, a program where girls (starting at age 8) can learn and be inspired to code. With the release of GWC’s recent books, “Learn to Code” and “The Friendship Code,” she works to get more girls involved in coding.
Saujani will be in Chicago for a conversation at Women and Children First bookstore on Sept. 11. We talked to her about her mission. The following has been edited for space and clarity.
Q: You come from a political and law background. What sparked your interest in coding?
A: I think I failed my way into it. I lost my election but was still passionate and I thought the best way to give back was to create an army of girls that would make the world a better place. My passion came through those girls and I really wanted to create opportunities for them. I wanted to know where the next female Mark Zuckerberg was. Girls Who Code in many ways started as an examinee to see how we could teach girls to do what many men have already been doing for years.
Q: Technology affects us all. What did you find during your research about the gender gap in tech?
A: I remember going to schools when I was running for office and talking to kids, and I saw that there were more boys in these math and science classes but not as many girls and I wanted to know where they were. I wanted to understand and I probably didn’t know until I started digging that there was a huge gender gap. Computing is where you see the biggest gap, which is weird to think because technology is such a huge part of everyone’s life, so why wouldn’t we be a significant part of the workforce since we are half the population? But we’re not.
Q: How did you learn to code?
A: Well, I created an organization before I actually learned to code. I’m not a coder, I didn’t get a degree in computer science, but through this organization I learned. I joke that our girls know more languages than I do. But that’s the thing, we talk ourselves out of doing things we want to do and oftentimes feel we need to be an expert on something in order to start, but you don’t. You need passion. I wanted to see girls find a cure to cancer. I wanted to see women be facets in every part of innovation.
Q: You talk about this concept of being brave over being perfect. Was there a time where you had to choose to be brave over choosing perfection?
A: When I ran for office, I had never done it before and decided to do it to be brave, knowing that I could lose in the race. I really emphasize it in the books when these girls are choosing bravery and learning how to code even though it’s something (they’ve) never done before. One of the girls in the book wanted to start coding to build an app to help her uncle so he would remember to take his medicine every day. It’s amazing; we want to show these girls they can be brave instead of only being perfect.
Q: When you started Girls Who Code, you had a small number of girls on your team. Now the number is around 40,000. Did you think it would ignite like that?
A: I think I knew the power it had after hearing the reaction people have toward it. I have always wanted to help and be creative, and I think the first program was building things to make the world better and women got so involved and that’s when I knew we were on to something.
Q: What is one of your favorite success stories through Girls who Code?
A: There are so many. There is Jasmine from Oakland (Calif.), and she built an app for the Latinas in her community so they could learn words since they couldn’t afford a tutor; and there was Maya and Lucy in New Jersey who created a tool to help kids who were dying of lead poisoning (from the Flint, Mich., water crisis). It’s amazing.
Q: What do you look for in a support system that you try to implement in GWC?
A: I love the idea of sisterhood, having girls who become friends and support each other. When I was growing up I read and never saw myself in characters and wanted to create these books so all girls could see themselves in these characters. I want every girl in America to read these books so they learn to code.
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