Girls Who Code, a crucial program devoted to nurturing young girls’ interest in technology, launches in Miami.

Reshma Saujani
Reshma Saujani, here at the organization’s offices at AppNexus in New York, started Girls Who Code after seeing the lack of girls in computer labs.

Remember the horrors of high school—the nausea-inducing process of finding where to sit in the cafeteria, between the coveted “cool kids’ ” table and sidelined cerebral nerds? That’s not exactly the best climate in which to cultivate a girl’s interest in science, let alone computers, but in a 21st-century job market, tech skills are the ticket. Sadly, girls often avoid the tech-savvy education tracks, but Girls Who Code is out to change all that.

Launched in Manhattan in 2012 by Reshma Saujani, a lawyer and former deputy public advocate for New York City, Girls Who Code prepares young women for the 21st century via intensive summer programs that draw out and hone their computer science acumen. The genesis for the idea came when Saujani was on the campaign trail (she ran for Congress in 2010) and saw a hundred boys in a computer lab in Manhattan’s Upper East Side, but just one girl. “My family came here as refugees from Uganda,” she says. “And one of the reasons why I think that they were given status was because they had technical talent, and the United States in the ’70s was desperate for engineers. I grew up with a role model who was brilliant at her job.”

Amanda Chen and Sheree Lewis
Amanda Chen and Sheree Lewis at Goldman Sachs, one of many companies in NYC hosting Girls Who Code’s summer immersion programs. Saujani hopes to find similar opportunities in Miami.

By 2020, there will be an estimated 1.4 million computer science jobs in the US, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, but currently just 18 percent of computer science graduates are women, according to figures from the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics. In other words, women are missing out on opportunity, and we, as a society, are missing out on some serious female talent. It bodes for a gender left behind.

Why the dearth of female tech interest? “It’s not aptitude; I think it’s pop culture,” offers Saujani. “You can’t be what you can’t see, and there are little to no great female role models that are in the technical field.”

To launch the program, Saujani raised funds from companies such as Google, Twitter, and Intel, and she and her executive director strategized by quizzing tech companies about what they sought in female job applicants. One common complaint was that by the time companies recruited on campuses, girls were already too far behind in computer science skills. The program needed to catch girls at a younger age.

Saujani and her team developed an immersive summer program for high school girls, and brainstormed with people who worked in academic and tech fields to create a curriculum that includes robotics, animation, and mobile app development, but also offered leadership lectures and field trips to local tech companies.

So far, they’ve launched in five cities—New York, Detroit, San Francisco, San Jose, and now Miami, where the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Verizon Foundation are helping with funding. “Miami is a burgeoning tech hub,” says Saujani. “It’s got a diverse community of companies. I also think that not everyone is going to go work at Google or Twitter—mid-market start-ups and technology companies are where the majority of these women are going to get jobs.”

Like what you're reading? Get it delivered straight to your inbox. Sign up now for our newsletters >>