Friday, June 20, 2014

Google Invests in Inspiring Girls to Seek Coding Careers

By Todd R. Weiss | Posted 2014-06-19 eWeek

Google is working with other groups on a large-scale initiative to encourage more young girls to pursue careers that will pay well and challenge them.Google is committing $50 million over the next three years to help encourage more young girls to join the field of IT and write computer code as part of the nascent Made with Code initiative.

The new group, which also includes partners such as Chelsea Clinton, Girls Inc., Girl Scouts of the USA, Mindy Kaling, MIT Media Lab, National Center for Women & Information Technology, SevenTeen and more, was announced June 19 by Susan Wojcicki, the CEO of Google's YouTube unit, in a post on the Google Official Blog.

Made with Code will work to solve some of the problems that exist today that are blocking young girls and women from pursuing careers in IT, wrote Wojcicki. One of the key issues, she wrote, is that statistics show that there are far too few women in the field and "far too few young girls following their paths. In fact, less than 1 percent of high school girls express interest in majoring in computer science."

That's where Made with Code hopes to make an impact, she wrote. To start, the project includes introductory Blockly-based coding projects, like designing a bracelet 3D-printed by Shapeways, learning to create animated GIFs and building beats for a music track, wrote Wojcicki. Also included are collaborations with organizations like Girl Scouts of the USA and Girls Inc. to bring girls into Made with Code and to encourage them to complete their first coding experiences, she wrote.

The $50 million donation will be used "to support programs that can help get more females into computer science, like rewarding teachers who support girls who take CS courses on Codecademy or Khan Academy," she wrote.

"Nowadays, coding isn't just a skill useful for working at a tech company; engineering isn't just for engineers," wrote Wojcicki. "Interior design. Medicine. Architecture. Music. No matter what a girl dreams of doing, learning how to code will help her get there. Their future—our future—is made with code. Let's do what we can to make sure that future is as bright as possible."

Wojcicki said that she was inspired to create the idea behind Made with Code to encourage her own school-age daughter to look at the possibilities that lay before her in the field of IT. "So, I decided to launch a campaign at home—connecting my daughter to coding resources, increasing my encouragement and introducing her to other girls interested in computer science," she wrote. "It wasn't always easy, but it's already showing results. She recently started learning basic computer languages and using code to do projects at home."

The site also features inspirational videos about women who are using code in their dream jobs, including Miral, a hip hop dancer and choreographer who lights up stages across the country; Danielle, a cinematographer at Pixar who helps to bring beloved characters like Nemo and Merida to life; and Erica, who is a humanitarian fighting malaria around the world, wrote Wojcicki. "These are all women with cool, amazing jobs. But, more important, they're all women who use computer science, and an ability to code, to do those cool, amazing jobs. They couldn't do what they do without having learned not just to use technology, but to build it themselves."

By working to help encourage young girls to see the possibilities, Google hopes to help bring more women into the field. "Coding is a new literacy and it gives people the potential to create, innovate and quite literally change the world," Wojcicki said in a statement. "We've got to show all girls that computer science is an important part of their future, and that it's a foundation to pursue their passions, no matter what field they want to enter. Made with Code is a great step toward doing that."

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This is not the first time that Google has been involved in such initiatives. The company has invested $40 million in organizations like, Girls Who Code, NCWIT and Black Girls Code since 2010, according to Google.

Several women entrepreneurs contacted by eWEEK said they applaud the new effort.

Kelly Hoey, the co-founder and managing director of Women Innovate Mobile, a New York City-based mentorship-driven business accelerator that aims to help with early-stage investment in mobile-first female-led startup ventures, said in an email that the effort appears to be "committed to meeting the girls 'where there are' with projects focused on wearables and animation—the technology girls are enthusiastically consuming but may not ever imagined creating." Also key, wrote Hoey, is that Made with Code seeks to introduce technology to significant numbers of girls through organizations the girls already belong to and participate in.

Hoey said she hopes that the program is truly an "active corporate commitment of resources and tools" that actually reaches girls, rather than just a framework that provides enthusiasm but no deep results. "Girls need role models in tech, and yes, we all love to be inspired, but right now, to get more girls in tech, we need more than mission-based enthusiasm. Less talk, more real action."

Telle Whitney, the CEO of the Anita Borg Institute, a Palo Alto, Calif.-based group that works to encourage and guide women in computing and technology innovation, said that her group is "very excited and supportive about Google's announcement and Google's major investment in increasing the pipeline. They are building on well-respected programs and working with great organizations. We continue to believe that companies need to create environments where women participate, thrive and innovate. Increasing the pipeline is only part of the overall solution."

Tracey Wellson-Rossman, the founder of Tech Girlz, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit group that works with 11- to 14-year-old girls to encourage them to look at careers in technology, said that while the project is a good one, it's important to remember that it's not just about coding when it comes to girls and the IT industry of the future. Instead, it's also about the fields of IT security, data centers, the cloud, hardware and much more, she said.

"We are not doing a good job communicating to our girls why this is important," Wellson-Rossman said of society in general. "To focus only on coding and robotics, we are missing a large group of girls who could be interested" in pursuing a wider range of IT fields. "We hope that Google being this huge, forward-thinking company, that it is really taking a good look at the demographics that they are try to reach."

One key for Google would be to also work closely with smaller, local groups across the nation that are already doing work like this to better coordinate efforts and spread the mantra of encouraging girls in technology, she said. "It would be great for them to take a look at some of the local groups and work and learn from what we've done already."

Interestingly, Google in May 2014 published the results of its workforce diversity tallies, and the picture is not as bright as the search giant would like it to be—70 percent of Google workers are men, while only 30 percent are women. Some 61 percent of workers are white. Only 2 percent of Google's workers are Black, and only 3 percent are Hispanic. Some 30 percent of Google workers are of Asian descent. - See more at:

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