Computer science is among the fastest-growing industries in the United States. It is estimated that more than four million jobs in the field will open up in the next decade. But if the past is any indication, women are likely to fill only a fraction of those positions.
Recent data shows the percentage of computing jobs held by women has fallen to 25 percent from a peak of 36 percent in 1991. Girls Who Code is one of the organizations focused on engaging young women in computer science and turning that trend around.
Coding for the summer
More than 10,000 high school girls have taken advantage of Girls Who Code's summer camps and after-school programs since 2012. The free seven-week summer program is for students who don't have coding experience. The New York-based non-profit partnered with technology companies to create the programs.
BSA/The Software Alliance is one of the partners in the Washington area, where Nidhi Allani, a rising high school senior, and incoming junior Phoebe Suh, signed up to learn to code.
Allani created a website called PoliTeens with her small team. "The issue we wanted to tackle was the under-representation of teenagers in the political spectrum," she explained. "So we decided to create a website, a forum to provide a platform for teenagers to voice their opinions on political issues going on in our country."
The website from Suh and her team is called reboot, which Suh described as "the first-of-its-kind, a comprehensive online database of local crisis resources" in the Washington area.
Filling the coding pipeline
"There's absolutely high demand for computer science jobs," says Tina Furuki with BSA. "In fact, they're expecting by 2024 there will be 4.4 million computer science jobs available in the U.S. And it's predicted that over a million of those positions will go unfilled. So we're hoping that with Girls Who Code, we will be able to help fill that pipeline and close the gender gap in computing."
The experience seems to be having the desired effect, opening up a whole new career path for some students.
Rising junior Annie Gomez acknowledges that she came to the program not knowing what to expect. "I wasn't really saying I'm going into the technology field. But my mind has completely changed for the better. I found that I have a passion for robotics and coding in C++," she said. "And I just feel full of great ideas."
"I actually was exposed to a lot of different programming languages this summer," said Allani. "We were able to create different computer games and that was really cool because it was a very immediate result. Once you created it, you saw a result and that was very gratifying." She says she had the time of her life. "I definitely became more confident as a person and in my skills and computer science especially."
Organizers hope the participants will take what they've learned into college, and beyond.