Written by Stacy Huffstetler, TechGirlz volunteer and partner at Widget Brain, a startup that’s passionate about creating smart solutions that have a real impact on daily life.
Working with middle school girls can be daunting to people who don’t come from an education background (like me!). This is especially true when the workshop is part of an after-school program. On my way to my first EducationWorks session, using a TechShopz in a Box program, I had a moment of doubt: how in the world am I going to convince 10-15 7th and 8th graders to care about developing their own mobile app? This moment faded the moment I met the program coordinator at Harding Middle School whose enthusiasm and organization immediately put me at ease. Needless to say, the Designing Mobile Apps workshop went great!
The girls were wonderful and very engaged. They created genuinely interesting, creative, and thoughtful apps. As an instructor, I enjoyed seeing different personalities come out for each of the girls, which led to different approaches for each group. Some groups were active and talkative, and they did more brainstorming and less design. Other groups were very detail-oriented, and drew upwards of 20 screens (including login, settings, etc.).
My personal favorite app was the How2 app. How2 combines Facebook with YouTube, with a focus on “how to” or instructional videos. Working together, the girls agreed on their idea, the logo, and the key design elements. In the end, they created an app where anyone can go to learn how to do anything (e.g., do hair, fix a flat tire, pick out an outfit, play the piano, etc.). Without using the terms exactly, the girls created elements that fostered user engagement, including user generated content, blooper reels, and the ability to “go live”, add / follow friends, search, and share videos. It was inspiring to watch them use their personal experiences to identify a gap and design a solution to fill it.
The TechGirlz mission – empowering girls to explore technology to broaden their future career possibilities – stuck with me from the moment I first learned about their organization at a Women In Tech Summit event. From my experience working at a big software company as well as a brand new startup (both based in Philly), I have seen firsthand the challenges of diversifying the tech world: there are fewer women in the space. The question of why there aren’t more women in technology-related fields is big and complex. There isn’t one answer or a simple solution, but I love that TechGirlz is doing something concrete: finding new and creative ways to expose young women to technology concepts and role models. From what I see, partnering with after school programs is helping to reach a new audience and furthering the impact of TechGirlz.