Here’s a little story of something that took place is my house recently, something that took me a little by surprise. It’s a story of how positive role models can inspire girls to want to learn more about technology. It’s a little different to what I usually write about, but something I feel is important.
Teaching kids to code
I’ve got two kids, a boy and a girl. Right now they’re 9 and 7 respectively. We’ve not pushed any gender specific agendas on either of them, they’ve both been given opportunities to try the same things, Football, Dance, Swimming, Cycling, Aikido, various bits of technology etc yet they’ve gravitated towards very gender traditional things. The boy is into Football and computer games (and mountainbiking is a current interest), our daughter is obsessed with dance (and I mean obsessed).
There’s some crossover, they both swim in the schools semi-competitive swim club, our daughter will play Minecraft for a little while but they’ve found their niches. Like I said, it’s not something we’ve pushed on hard, it’s just they way they’ve gone.
The school had some notices up about a fledgling computer coding club, I think mainly for the older kids, they were offering Scratch and Python programming. Our son was very interested in this and we decided to do it at home amongst all the other activities. So we did some experimenting with Scratch (which is very cool by the way, it has all the concepts of programming languages in a visual format) and recently we moved on to Python.
I tweeted about it one day and was (rightly) called out by a friend of mine.
I replied saying that would be a challenge and Vanessa came straight back.
@DamianM doesn't mean it's not important. Tech needs more women and its up to us to inspire them— vanessa (@vjds) February 21, 2015
Yep, fair enough.
So I suggested it to my very opinionated 7 year old daughter (gee, I wonder where she gets that) and was met with a very disinterested “ummm, no”.
This changed the conversation totally, when I let my daughter know that somebody was sending a book about girls learning to program, she was super excited and asked twice a day when the book would arrive. (I suppose that this act validated to her that it was OK for her to be interested, maybe it’s just that she likes getting stuff! I don’t know). On getting the book and looking at the characters in it, then finding out that I was friends with Bronwen Zande (who has a character and a story in the book), changed everything! That afternoon she wanted me to teach her how to work with Scratch as well, and she’s been tinkering ever since.
I don’t know how long the excitement will last, I’m certainly encouraging it as much as I can, but for now, she’s inspired by the whole thing and wants to learn more. I have to say I’m amazed by the whole thing.
So where next ?
There’s a lot of talk about women in technology in my circles, both online and offline. I definitely agree that trying to solve “the pipeline problem” isn’t the only solution, we need to do more to make the tech sector a better, safer and more equitable environment for women. I certainly don’t have all the answers to that, but I’ve been surprised and amazed by the burst of inspiration provided by the Tech Girls Movement, and figure it can only help.
For my part, I’m going to keep encouraging it at home, and I’m in a position at Octopus Deploy to do things there as well. I’m going to be writing more about that soon over on the Octopus Blog, but I’d love to have a goal of a 50 / 50 gender split, even if it’s hard to hit.
I think that’s going to take some work, I certainly don’t think you can sit back and say “Well no women applied so we gave it our best shot”, that’s a cop out. If you’re a female developer, particularly in Brisbane, I’d love to hear your thoughts (either in the comments or get in touch privately).
If you’re the parent of a girl, and interested in technology, definitely look at the work being done with the Tech Girls Movement. I think it’s fantastic.