What can we do to help increase the number of girls that enter career paths that involve STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) careers? Being a ‘techie’ doesn’t have to be for boys only.
These days, most everyone is tech-savvy—from being up to date on the coolest gadgets to hopping around on social media, it’s hard not to be. But as much as these things are an integral part of daily life, women are still woefully underrepresented in STEM—science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—fields.
Only one-quarter of all computer science jobs are held by women, and the statistics aren’t improving: According to research, only 14 percent of all comp sci graduates last year were female. While the numbers can be discouraging, there’s a new crop of girl coders making themselves known in the tech world.
Jackie, 22, is one of them. She believes there’s a cultural stigma about girls in tech and admits to being a “secret coder” for years because she didn’t see herself in a profession dominated by “greasy dudes in old hoodies, crowded around a computer screen in a dark room.” Casey, a high school junior, says it’s a hard-to-break cycle. “Girls aren’t brought up to aspire to be in STEM, and we don’t have many role models,” she explains. “It’s hard to spark widespread interest: Not a lot of girls are in coding because not a lot of girls are in coding.”
Jackie’s desire to code began when she wanted to start a blog but was unsatisfied by the template designs available. She decided to customize her own by following tutorials online, and though she found the step-by-step instructions tedious at first, she learned to write her own code—and love it. “It’s like creating high-concept art,” she says.
LaTorria, an engineer at Microsoft, agrees that creativity is key. “Coding is similar to learning a new language,” she explains. In fact, when you code, you’re often writing in what are called programming languages. “Once you learn the language, you can speak it, or in this case, tell the code what task you would like the computer to perform. The interesting part about coding is discovering how truly creative you can be when you get over the initial challenges.”