Comp Sci Is About To Get Cool Again

by Alicia Lu

In light of Google's recent diversity report that revealed just 17 percent of its tech employees are women, Google has launched a $50 million initiative, Made With Code, to recruit more girls into the tech world. The corporate giant kicked off Made With Code Thursday in New York, at an event hosted by Mindy Kaling and Chelsea Clinton. Google's commitment to close the tech gender gap is more than necessary, considering most Silicon Valley tech companies revealed the same gender disparities in their own diversity reports.

Google's Made With Code initiative features a website offering projects, mentors' stories, events, and resources to acquaint girls with coding. This is not your typical computer science lecture: Some of the projects featured on the site include coding a 3D bracelet, coding visuals to add to your selfies, and coding beats for your own personal soundtrack. The Mentors and Makers sections feature real-life women who code for a living — women who are dancers, DJs, fashion designers — dispelling the stigma that coding is for nerdy men with glasses working in windowless, fluorescent-lit offices.

In a video on the Made With Code site, Miral Kotb, one of the Mentors and founder of iLuminate, noted:

There’s a lot of negative stigma with female computer-science developers. But there shouldn’t be — it’s not nerdy or isolating or hard in the way people think. I think the way the female mind works is organizing things and putting them together in a way that makes sense. And that’s what software development is: encountering a problem and figuring out how to solve it. And that’s cool.

Google found that most girls decide whether or not to major in computer science before they enter college, so the project largely targets girls still in high school. Since 1984, the number of female computer science majors has dropped significantly: the number of women majoring in computer science peaked in 1984 with 37 percent, but has dropped significantly since then.

And Google's initiative isn't the only one. Given that computer science is one of the fastest-growing, highest-paying careers in the country, yet several pockets of the overall demographic are hardly exposed to it, several other initiatives have cropped up to bring coding to forefront.

Yes We Code

While Made With Code aims to close the gender gap, Yes We Code is striving to close another gap. Activist Van Jones's coding initiative was spawned from the contrasting stereotypes created by a piece of clothing: the hoodie. Jones told TIME that during a conversation with his friend Prince — yes, of Purple Rain fame — "I think he made the observation that when African-American young people wear hoodies people think they’re thugs, but when white kids wear hoodies you assume that they’re going to be dot-com billionaires."

Jones was referencing Mark Zuckerberg, who is notorious for his love hoodies. "We just started thinking: 'Well, how do we turn that around?'" Jones told TIME.

Yes We Code has a very specific goal: to prepare 100,000 low-income children for coding careers. The initiative will launch on July 4 at the annual Essence Festival in New Orleans, which Prince will headline, with an official website that will connect low-income students with coding education programs and a fundraiser to raise $10 million for a coding scholarship.

Black Girls Code

Like the other initiatives, Black Girls Code also seeks to introduce normally underexposed kids to coding. Its specific goal is to increase the number of African-American women in the STEM (Science, Tech, Engineering, and Math) fields through exposing girls between 7 and 17 to computer science.

Founder Kimberly Bryant has explained she was inspired to start Black Girls Code because, as an electrical engineering student in college, she was one of the very few black women in her classes. She suspected that the disparity was due to a lack of access and exposure to STEM topics, so she made it her mission to provide the exposure.

Hack the Hood

While the former initiatives focus more on exposure, Hack the Hood emphasizes hands-on training. Hack the Hood provides technical training to underprivileged youth in computer, tech, and multimedia skills through a six-week program. After the kids finish, they will have the opportunity to apply their skills directly to internships and projects with real organizations and companies.

Some of the skills they'll learn include search engine optimization and building mobile-friendly websites using template software. The Hack the Hood website also offers job postings for the program's alumni.

Images: Made With Code, Yes We Code, Black Girls Code, Hack the Hood, Taylor Hill/FilmMagic for Google