Empowering girls by inspiring them to code in a fun and friendly female environment

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

This article is from Cheriton School of Computer Science posted on January 15, 2018.

Women were there in the beginning.

Women were the first computers — the people who performed complex mathematical calculations with pencil and chalk — and later, as the field of computer science emerged, they were the first programmers.

But computing isn’t dominated by women today. They are underrepresented in computer science and in the tech industry. Although some gains have been made — the proportion of female undergraduate students enrolled in Faculty of Mathematics computer science programs has increased in recent years — today only about one in five computer science undergraduates at Waterloo are women, a statistic all too common at many universities.

One powerful solution is exposing girls to programming early on. Susan Wojcicki, the CEO of YouTube, has an interesting story about this, Atlee recounts, adding that the kind of exposure is key. “Susan had one computer in the home that her son dominated. At the time, her 10-year-old daughter said she hated computers, so she enrolled her in a computer camp to see if it would spark an interest. The camp was filled mostly with boys, so she came back even more discouraged. She then sent her daughter to an all-girls computer camp and she came back captivated.”

girls attending technovation session

This is precisely the supportive environment Atlee hopes to replicate here through Technovation Waterloo— giving girls from Grades 5 to 12 an opportunity to not only see what computing is like but also letting them dive more deeply into computing by building a mobile app of their own design.

Technovation does this in an environment that is purposely female-dominated — from student participants to mentors to instructors. Girls meet other girls who are interested in technology and entrepreneurship and, equally important, they are mentored and instructed by female undergraduate and graduate students from Waterloo along with women from the local tech industry, all of whom serve as powerful role models.

It’s the sort of opportunity that likely would have given Anna Lorimer, a joint Honours Computer Science and Combinatorics & Optimization undergrad at Waterloo, an added edge. “My high school didn’t have computer science courses at all but I was very much a math whiz, so I applied to undergrad math programs,” she said. “I didn’t take computer science until I started university — a theme common among girls. Lots of boys are exposed to computers at a much younger age than girls are. And a lot of young women applying to university simply don’t know that computer science is an option. This limits the number of women entering the field.”

girls attending technovation session

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