Teach Girls to Program Before People Tell Them They Can’t Do It

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A young computer engineering student and her mother talk about how to encourage more girls to get into tech.

By June Lin (Writer, Play-i)

From a young age Randi Williams and her sister followed their dad around as he set up computers and networks at local schools and businesses. Her mom, Yolanda, is an electrical engineer who encouraged STEM education from an early age. So it’s no surprise that she’s studying computer engineering at UMBC. This summer she interned at Jawbone after her freshman year in San Francisco through the CODE2040 program. We sat down with her and her mother to talk about her experiences and how to encourage girls in technology.

Introduce Programming at a Young Age

Yolanda (mother): ”I have three daughters, and they’re all very different. Pay attention to your child and expose them to all kinds of different things. Be aware of where the careers are so that you can encourage them to pursue a field they’ll be able to use on the job! Let them decide on what they’re interested in and then give them what they need to pursue their interests.”

Randi (daughter): “Anything hands-on is great. The Patriots Technology Camp brought in people who were working in the field to show us how to do things. Not just talk to us. We took apart a computer, programmed Lego robots, built an underwater robot, and shot off rockets that we made. Whenever you have freedom to create, it’s much more interesting.”

Find Support Networks

Randi: ”When I walked into my first computer science class, I was the only girl in the room. Then another girl walked in, and I was like ‘this is not so bad anymore.’ But then she dropped out, and it was just me again. I felt kind of isolated because I had no one to talk to. But now I’m sort of getting over that because I’ve come to terms that this is just how it’s going to be.

I’m grateful to be a part of many organizations for women and minorities in engineering including: Meyerhoff Scholars, the National Society of Black Engineers, the Society of Women Engineers, and the Center for Women in Technology. In fact, Meyerhoff set me up with CODE2040, which led me to my internship at Jawbone!

There are not enough women in technology. I understood that there was a problem, but I didn’t know what to do about it. I’ve met lots of great mentors in Silicon Valley. My manager at Jawbone really encouraged me to put myself out there and be more aggressive.”

If You Love It, Don’t Let Anyone Take It Away From You

Randi: “We need to change the way people think about themselves in the context of gender roles. Many girls think they’re not supposed to be good at math, but that’s not true. I do not like English, but I love math. It’s totally natural.

So give them a robot to program, and get them to try it at a young age before they go to high school and notice all their science teachers are men. If they like doing it, they’ll keep doing it. That’s what happened to me. If people are not exposed to the stereotypes, they can do things they’re not expected to do.”

In a study by the Girl Scouts Research Institute, 75% of girls taking programing courses cite having a family member in computing as a reason for enrolling. Encouragement was the number one driving factor for female students to go into computer science. Thanks, Randi and Yolanda, for sharing your thoughts.

Now what are you going to do to encourage girls in technology?

This post originally appeared on the Play-i blog. Photo credit: Randi Williams. 

12-282x300About the blogger: June Lin leads community development at Play-i. Play-i is creating robots that teach children as young as age 5 computer programming in a fun, hands-on way. She believes that the first step to changing the ratio in the tech is inspiring girls to become makers of technology early in life.