In 2012, Reshma Saujani founded Girls Who Code in response to one very big, but until then, highly ignored problem: the gender gap in technology. It's no secret that tech jobs are among the fastest growing in the country, yet women in general are being left behind... and this starts between the ages of 13 and 17. This is when girls' interest in computer science shows the biggest drop off in interest. As a result, according to Girls Who Code, women in the US are set to fill only 3% of the 1.4 million jobs in computer related fields that will be available by 2020.
There are many reasons girls and women are being left behind when it comes to tech (teachers not encouraging girls to these science, math and tech related fields; men in the industry purposefully keeping it a boys' club) and Saujani has spoken about these issues for years. And now she's taking her mission to bookstores with the release of two books, the nonfiction Girls Who Code, written by Saujani, and the fictional The Friendship Code, written by Stacia Deutsch.
"After hearing from parents across the country that they wanted their daughters to learn to code, I went on Amazon to see what books were available and didn't see anything for girls and coding. Thus the idea of [Girls Who Code] books were born," Saujani tells Bustle. "One book grew into 11 books, and now 13 books spanning imprints, ages, and formats. The first books are out on August 22 and include our non-fiction book, and the first in a fiction series, The Friendship Code, which I like to think of as The Babysitter’s Club meets coding."
Girls Who Code by Reshma Saujani
Interestingly, Saujani herself is an attorney and activist, not a coder. But working on and reading the Girls Who Code books have already become a large part of her own education, making these a great addition to any adult's home library, too.
"I lead the creation of the nonfiction book in collaboration with our education team and interviews with our girls. Andrea Tsurimi, our illustrator, Sarah Hutt, our writing partner, and Jeff Stern, our technical advisor, were also integral. The process taught me a lot about computer science and it’s been a huge complement to the programming classes I’m taking each week with our education team," Saujani says.
As for the books themselves, Girls Who Code not only contains down-to-earth explanations of coding principles, but the real-life stories of girls and women like Ada Lovelace, the world's first computer programmer, Grace Murray Hopper, who helped develop multiple programming language, and others working at places like Pixar and NASA. Saujani believes this focus on inspirational and aspirational is the best way to encourage girls to get interested in tech.
"You can’t be what you can’t see! One of the best ways to spark girls’ interest is to share stories of women they can look up to. We are all very familiar with the image of a male programmer in a hoodie and tech CEOs like Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg. But Ada Lovelace and Grace Hopper aren’t yet household names," Saujani says. "How many people knew who Katherine Johnson was before Hidden Figures shared her story? Our hope is that the stories of these pioneering women in tech will inspire a generation of girls to learn to code."
The Friendship Code takes that idea of helping girls see themselves in tech to another level, by telling the fictional story of a diverse group of friends who join a coding club at school and become best friends in the process...though not without some trials and tribulations
"The characters, Lucy, Maya, Sophie, Erin and Leila, represent the diversity and range of backgrounds of our girls who code across the US. We have programs in a homeless shelter in Boston, on a Chippewa reservation in Minnesota, in a migrant center in California, and in the top private schools in New York City. No matter your ethnicity or socioeconomic background, we believe that all girls are capable of becoming computer scientists," Saujani says. "When you teach girls to code, they become change agents and tackle our country's toughest problems and I wanted to make sure that the stories of our girls who code across the US came to life in this series."
The Friendship Code by Stacia Deutsch
And most importanly, Saujani realized the challenges of taking a topic that might generally be considered boring to many young girls, and decided to fight against those stigmas at every turn.
"We show girls how you can use technology to change the world and do a lot of other cool things," she says. "Our girls have created incredible things, from games tackling period stigma to apps about the water crisis in Flint to microprocessors that make guns safer. In our programs and in these books, the girls enter a sisterhood and make friends while learning new skills. We teach more than just coding in our programs, we also teach sisterhood and impact."
Saujani believes that encouraging sisterhood among the next generation may ultimately change the face of tech forever.
She says: My hope is that these characters will inspire a generation of girls to learn to code and help change the image of what a coder looks like!"
Girls Who Code founder Reshma Saujani will introduce her new book in conversation with Bustle's Senior Books Editor Cristina Arreola at New York City's Union Square Barnes & Noble on August 22 at 7pm. For more information, visit Barnes & Noble.