Girls Who Code: programming workshops for young women

The “Club de Chicas Programadoras” (The Girls Who Code Club) started as an initiative to encourage secondary school female students to explore the world of technology in an communal learning context. 

According to research from the Sadosky Foundation, the percentage of women studying Computer Science has plummeted from 67% in the ‘60s to 11% nowadays. Even though the Argentinian Software & IT Services Chamber of Commerce (CESSI Argentina) estimates that every year approximately 5000 job positions in the software industry remain unfulfilled due to lack of professionals, women don’t actually choose this field of study when they enter university. This is why it’s important to connect young women with technology from an early age. 

This Club (or, shall we say, “club chain”?) not only seeks to teach programming, but it also wants to inspire the love for IT in young women and make them aware of its power to change the world. Last year, thanks to more than 60 volunteers, 35 clubs were created in Argentina and Colombia, training more than 500 girls. 

Lourdes Ramirez (Software Engineer) and Patricia Miguel (QA Engineer) from intive, together with Ariana Nieto (Engineer student), took part in the latest edition (February-March 2021) as mentors, and they shared their experiences with us. 

Why do you think it’s important for more women to learn to program? 

LR: Because we can! First and foremost, it’s a great job opportunity. In a context such as ours, with so many people working outside the system, learning this job, full of opportunities you’ve never even dreamed of, is just a great idea. 

Secondly, in the past few years, jobs related to technology have become mostly male-dominated, and somehow this idea was born that only men have the skills to do them. Which simply isn’t true. Women perform equally well and can actually be part of innovation, science, future challenges. We can choose this type of profession because we have what it takes to work in this field. 

PM: There are several reasons. Women tend to be classified as unsuitable for tasks which require  the so-called “cold logic”, and instead they are more commonly associated with the “humane” side of digital development. That’s why, generally, we don’t have any trouble becoming interface designers, chiefs of client support, testers, team leaders… But, in many cases, we don’t really find the same space in programming, data analysis, robotics and other fields which are more connected to “hard and exact sciences”. 

More women in those areas would mean more role models for girls, so that they could see programming as a possible, realistic career option. 

What did you do during the workshop? What were the meetings like? 

PM: The workshop consisted of 6 meetings. Initially, Lourdes and I were to be the only mentors, but we were lucky to have Ariana Nieto, who doesn’t work for intive, but who had previous experience working as a mentor with two other clubs. Her contribution was invaluable when it came to deciding which topics to focus on and how to organize them for the meetings we had in mind. In the end, the club was divided into 3 modules of 2 meetings each, starting with Scratch, a widely-used tool to understand programming and its basic concepts. Then we focused on some basic notions about web development, and in these two meetings, the girls managed to create a webpage written purely in HTML and CSS. It was really interesting to see how motivated they felt when they saw something they had created themselves. The last module was for MIT App Inventor which, through block-based coding, allowed them to create perfectly operating mobile apps that could be transferred to a real device. 

What experience and knowledge did you earn as mentors? 

PM: Even though I had experience teaching, before, I had always done it face to face. This club was my first encounter with virtual teaching, and it has helped me overcome some mental hurdles regarding the whole process. Since there was no pressure of exams or marks, the focus was on what really mattered, which was learning, and not just “passing the subject”, which is often the case with formal education. This enabled a more fluent brainstorming process, without the fear of making mistakes. Besides, it was gratifying and enriching to be in contact with young people, who are genuinely curious to know new things. That renewed my enthusiasm. 

AN: I’ve been mentoring the club for 3 years, and the thing I like the most, and the reason why I keep on going, is seeing these girls, who come here with zero knowledge of programming, leave the club with the desire to enrol in a course of studies related to technology. It’s beautiful to see how you open a door to something they didn’t know about, something that ended up being totally different from what they’d expected. 

LR: For me, it was a wonderful experience. In our workshop, we had some girls from vulnerable backgrounds who got help from social workers, because they didn’t even have an email address. We were hesitant at first because we didn’t know how to present the information so that it would be beneficial to them, and to be honest, the energy was beautiful: we saw them create, work with enthusiasm, ask questions, finish the exercises we suggested, laugh… They never missed one meeting, and, at the end, they thanked us. I truly enjoyed it and I think the club has the potential to attract girls from diverse backgrounds and help them learn about technology. Now they have the tools to keep on learning, and tomorrow they might be able to find a job that will enrich them as professionals and human beings. 

I loved being able to share my love for technology with them at that early age in which they’re dreaming about what to do with their lives ahead. Now they know this option is real and, if they really want it, they can make it happen. 

What would you recommend to a woman who wants to become a mentor? 

AN: I’d tell her to go for it! I know it may be a bit scary, or they might get nervous, having to stand in front of a class to share their knowledge with others; but the truth is, it’s really rewarding to know that by sharing your experience and your knowledge in this way, you may inspire other girls to dare join the world of programming. 

PM: I’d tell them to trust themselves. There’s no need to be an expert to share what you know. The important thing is to do it from the heart. Of course, when you embark on the noble task of teaching, you as a teacher generally have to study more than your students. 

LR: Do it, don’t miss out on the experience. In the club, we have support from all over the world. The team offers experience and lots of material for people to create quality meetings with the girls. They also give you the freedom to guide the group with what you think will benefit them. It’s really rewarding to see girls setting up their projects with enthusiasm, and to know you’re empowering women with information to decide on their future. 

Would you like to know more about the Club? Would you like to join in?  Visit their website (in Spanish): http://www.chicasprogramadoras.club/ 



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