Everybody knows there’s a shortage of women in the tech industry. Some people think this is because girls either don’t like tech or they are not good at it, but the real problem is, schools aren’t doing enough to teach girls about tech in a way that makes it interesting for them.
Studies show girls are as interested as boys in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) until they reach middle school. But by the time girls enter ninth grade, most of them have already opted out of STEM programs because the careers those classes lead to seem nerdy and aren’t collaborative or creative.
On top of that, most tech classes in high school are filled with geeky guys, and even the course descriptions for these classes are dry and boring. They use terms like “data structures” and “control statements” and talk about programs like JAVA, Python and C# without explaining what these applications can do in the world.
If I hadn’t been exposed to the Philadelphia nonprofit organization TechGirlz in seventh grade, I never would have realized that technology isn’t actually boring; it’s a great tool for making the world a better place.
TechGirlz holds free coding classes to encourage girls to become leaders in technology — and teaches in a way that’s actually fun and interesting!
I attended its HTML coding class and its Entrepreneur Summer Camp. The summer camp was great because we got to make our own app and pitch ideas to see if the concept was marketable in a kid-friendly setting with real start-up business leaders from the Philly tech industry.
My idea was an app called “Where’d it Go?” that helps you keep track of items that are easily lost like keys, wallets, etc. I got to see my idea put to use in real life, and I learned a lot about design. We talked to web coders to see what ideas could be incorporated, and it showed a whole other side of IT work that made it more appealing to me as a girl.
From TechGirlz, I learned I was good at technology even as a girl — it doesn’t have to be a boys’ club. These courses showed me technology is more than something guys do; it’s actually a great tool to make the world a better place. TechGirlz gave me the confidence to take a pre-engineering class and a web-coding class in ninth grade. I was one of three girls in pre-engineering and one of four in my web-coding class.
In the coding class, we were taught the internal components of computers and basic coding skills. But it was hard to pay attention because of the way the class was taught. It seemed like learning these skills was pointless, even though I knew how useful they were.
This past summer, I took the skills I learned in school to the next level and enrolled in an online class that allowed me to experiment with making my own photography website. I hope Pennsbury High School’s new STEM supervisor, Elizabeth Price, and other STEM coordinators in Bucks County and all across the country will do more to make technology classes appealing and inclusive to girls.
Some colleges are already working to reduce the gender gap by changing the way their classes are taught. They’ve introduced new programs that demonstrate the ways technology can be used to help fix real-world problems — and it’s been a big hit with women.
At MIT, they are creating teddy bears that help reduce the stress and anxiety sick children have to face. Students at UC Berkeley are involved in courses that are creating solutions for low-cost, safe drinking water and inventing equipment to help combat tropical diseases. More than half to three-quarters of these classes are filled with girls.
Our high schools need to follow this lead. It’s a low-cost fix to a pressing issue. Technology will be a part of everybody’s jobs soon; the Department of Labor predicts that, by 2020, there will be 1.4 million new IT job openings in the country — that’s more jobs than can be filled by U.S. citizens.
With the help of teachers to get more women involved, the tech industry can become even more of a hot spot for collaborative, creative (and of course, high-paying) careers than it already is.
Written by TechGirlz alum, Katia Barricklow, currently at Pennsbury High School.
TechGirlz offers free classes for girls from sixth through eighth grade in Philadelphia and Bucks County. On Oct. 17, the group will be sponsoring “STEMgirlz 2015” at Bucks County Community College in Newtown Township. For more information, click here.