Reshma Saujani has a plan: to provide computer science education and exposure to one million young women by 2020. The Indian-American lawyer and politician is the founder of Girls Who Code, a non-profit devoted to giving girls the computing skills to pursue 21st century opportunities. In an interview with Metro World News, Saujani spoke about her varied career, her passion for technology and why more women need to get into science and technology.
By trade, you’re a lawyer who has been involved in politics. So, how did you get into coding?
I first became involved in coding following my campaign for Congress in New York City in 2010. During my time running for office, I came across some of the poorest and richest schools in New York City. … While some schools had every imaginable gadget available, others didn’t even have access to a computer. … After doing research into the gender gap in the technology field, I knew I needed to start a program to help teach girls the right skills to thrive in the 21st century — and then Girls Who Code was born.
Men outnumber women when it comes to working in coding and computer science. Do you think it’s because of bias or because our families continue to teach us that tech is a “male profession”?
The root of the problem for getting young girls interested in coding and technology is education. The simple fact is there has been a steady decline in women who wish to pursue jobs in tech-related fields since the 1980s. In 2012, only 18 percent of women majored in computer science, down from 37 percent in 1984. This decline is precisely what we are trying to change at Girls Who Code. … Coding can be a collaborative and creative process filled with excitement and fun. Our programs and clubs work to emphasize these qualities and allow girls to see jobs in computer science and tech in a different light.
Your main goal is to narrow the gender gap and prepare millions of girls to take on future coding jobs. How are you going to make that happen?
Working to close the gender gap is not something that is going to happen overnight. It is going to take continuous effort to get girls interested and excited about pursuing technology as a career. However, in the few years since our founding in 2012, we have taught over 3,331 girls nationwide through 150 Girls Who Code clubs and 19 summer immersion programs. One hundred percent of our graduates from the various summer immersion programs around the U.S. are planning to major in computer science or engineering – most of these graduates had a different or undecided educational path before Girls Who Code. These are real results we are seeing with each passing year. But we have a long way to go before we reach equality in the workplace for women, especially in the tech sector.
Two Girls Who Code graduates created an 8-bit web video game Tampon Run that went viral. How was it working with them?
Great! They wanted to create a video game that spoke to girls about an issue they could relate to – i.e. menstruation. They later worked with the game developmental company Pivotal to create a mobile version, and today you can download Tampon Run at the Apple App Store.
It’s stories precisely like this that truly showcase what Girls Who Code is all about – cultivating collaboration, creativity and technical ability. Many of our girls come to us with little or no coding or computer experience. We work with them to develop these technical skills and create an environment where they can collaborate. They look at tech for its practicality in their own lives and how they can be a part of that.
How do you see the future of women in technology?
Tech is all around us today. There’s no denying the global reach. It has become ingrained into seemingly every aspect of our lives and its influence will only continue to grow. The future of jobs is within computing fields supporting this growing technology. It is estimated there will be 1.4 million of these positions available by 2020. We need to help make sure young women are properly educated and have the resources available to thrive within this field.