While the tech industry is booming in the U.S., women’s participation in it is not.
Sources say the gender gap is, in fact, worse now than in the 1980s. A club meets at the Basalt Library every Tuesday, doing its part to reverse this trend.
Karuna Owens can make her sprite do the Cha-Cha slide. In other words, she’s making the little figure on her laptop screen dance. Yes, today’s seventh-graders are still listening to that song.
Owens and Hannah Faulhaber are two of three regular members of the club, Girls Who Code. After school is let out, they come to a spacious conference room at the Basalt Library, where Dell laptops await them with bags of Ritz crackers sitting on their keyboards. Once they’re settled, the girls take about five minutes to dilly-dally online, guilt-free.
Anne Darby is a librarian and the girls’ instructor. On the whiteboard, across the room, she’s hung the Club Constitution, created and signed by the three members. Its amendments include: “Challenge ourselves”; “Appreciate each other”; “Put away phone during club.”
Right next to it, Darby has scrawled out the day’s agenda in dry-erase marker. The first task is to research and discuss a “Woman Who Codes.”
“I don’t know, I think it’s easier if you see someone who looks more like you...working in a field you’re interested in,” said Darby.
Today, they’re learning about Dr. Rebecca Parsons, the chief technology officer at a consulting firm. They’ve learned about an app developer in Kenya, an online travel-agency-startup, a new music-sharing platform, all of which have women at the helm.
Dr. Parson’s has some pieces of advice for girls interested in science and technology.
“If you like science, math or technology, you are not weird. You don’t have to apologize. You have found your passion, and that is extremely, extremely important,” Owens read aloud.
When they’ve finished reading about Parsons, it’s time to dive into some coding. For those of you who aren’t entirely sure what it means to “code,” forgive yourselves. According to Darby, coding is the process of “telling the computer what you want it to do, in the computer’s language.”
The language the girls are learning is one that’s widely used, called Python. Darby is driving home concepts that are central to writing code, like variables. As they learn these concepts, they snack on Ritz crackers, lots of Ritz crackers.
Girls Who Code is a nonprofit that has clubs like these around the country. There are several on the Front Range and several in Utah, but this is the only one in Western Colorado.
Darby learned to code when she was getting her master’s degree in Library Sciences. She reached out to Girls Who Code headquarters this fall to bring the program to Basalt. The library agreed to provide the space, and she knew enough about computer science to facilitate the program.
The girls go to Basalt Middle School, where they do have some exposure to coding and computer science. Here in the library, there’s something regular school doesn’t have: No boys.
Darby said boys are, of course, welcome at Girls Who Code, but maybe not having boys here is important. It provides a place for girls like Owens and Faulhaber where they can be curious and goofy; a place where they can compete with, help and challenge each other.
Both girls said they don’t have much homework to do tonight, but whatever they have to do, they’ll do by computer. They even do their math homework on the computer.
As the hour and a half wraps up, Owens starts drawing on the board. Faulhaber starts guessing letters. While they may be digital natives, and may never remember a time without computers, middle schoolers of today still wrap up after-school activities with a good, old-fashioned game of hangman on the whiteboard.