August 22, 2017
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Let’s change the image of tomorrow’s scientists and engineers

In her book, which is now out in paperback, Girls Who Code founder inspires and empowers young women to pursue STEM

Two new books will inspire young girls who are interested in science and technology: “Girls Who Code: Learn to Code and Change the World,” and “The Friendship Code,” a new fiction series for young readers. Covers courtesy of Penguin Random House

Editor's note

Girls Who Code founder Reshma Saujani is on a mission to change the face of tomorrow’s engineers and scientists. Her book, “Girls Who Code: Learn to Code and Change the World,” which is just out in paperback, explains basic coding principles and gives examples of women in the field today, working in exciting careers at NASA and Pixar. In this excerpt, Saujani writes about the inspiration behind Girls Who Code.

HELLO, WORLD

I’M RESHMA, and I’m the founder of Girls Who Code. Our organization helps girls in middle school and beyond learn to write code that’s used to program computers and digital devices and get inspired by all the amazing ideas, skills, and opportunities that learning to code can bring.

And, believe me, there are tons.

But I’ll let you in on a little secret: UNTIL A FEW YEARS AGO, I WAS AFRAID TO LEARN HOW TO CODE.

My background is as a lawyer and politician. I’ve served as the deputy public advocate for New York City, and in 2010, I was the first South Asian American woman to run for Congress. I’ve always loved meeting new people and helping out in my community. That’s why I was drawn to politics. Ever since I was a girl, I’ve aspired to do something that would make a positive difference in people’s lives. I just never imagined it would be through computers or coding.

But when I was running for office, I spent a lot of time visiting New York City schools. That’s when I noticed something.

In every computer lab, I saw dozens of boys learning to code and training to be tech innovators. BUT THERE WERE BARELY ANY GIRLS!

Where were they?

This didn’t seem right to me. I knew that women make up a majority of college graduates and almost half our workforce. But when it came to computer science, or CS, the study of computers and the different ways they can be used, women weren’t anywhere to be seen (at least in New York City’s schools). And that’s a problem.

By 2020, there will be 1.4 million open jobs in computing. These jobs are some of the country’s highest-paying and fastest-growing career paths. BUT GIRLS ARE ON TRACK TO FILL JUST 4 PERCENT OF THEM.

Just 4 percent? If this were a pie chart, that wouldn’t even qualify as a slice!

To me, this is unacceptable. Girls are missing out on the jobs of the future, all because they are not learning to code.

Why is this happening? Why weren’t there more girls in those classrooms?

THE PROBLEM

It got me thinking about why I’d never learned to code.

It wasn’t because I didn’t have plenty of opportunities to study math and computing; after all, my dad is an engineer. When I was growing up, he loved to share science ideas with me and would always ask me math questions on the fly, usually during dinner. But it was hard for me to work out the answers in my head. A lot of times I knew the answer, but I couldn’t figure it out right away. And those moments of not knowing and staring at my dad’s face across the table made me feel like I wasn’t smart enough. Dinner became an anxiety-filled event for me, and I started to believe I wasn’t good at math.

Then I became scared of it.

So I avoided it, and any subject I thought required math—including coding, statistics, and engineering—and focused on history and writing, where I was more comfortable and knew I would do well immediately.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but I wasn’t alone. Thousands of girls of all ages tell me the same thing: that they’re just “not good” at math or science. They tell me they’re scared of subjects that seem too technical, like coding. Or even if they’re not scared, they think computer science is not “for” them—that it’s not social enough, and it’s for boys who like to sit at computers all day.

Well, let me tell you another secret:

THAT IS COMPLETE AND UTTER BALONEY ON A ROLL! (hold the mayo)

It turns out that from an early age, we’ve been fed the message through stereotypes, social cues, and sometimes even from educators that science, technology, engineering, and math, or STEM, is “not for you.”

If you start looking for these signals, you’ll see them everywhere. I can walk into a popular retailer for teen girls and buy a T-shirt that says ALLERGIC TO ALGEBRA. Or I can watch any number of TV shows depicting a programmer as a guy in a hoodie alone with his computer in his basement.

As girls, we’re listening. And you can see the impact of these negative stereotypes and lack of role models in the numbers. By middle school, most girls say that STEM careers are not for them. By high school, girls are ranking engineering, computing, and math as some of the least interesting professions.

Girls are being slowly steered away from STEM subjects before they can find out if they actually like them, and, more importantly, before they can find out that they are actually amazing at them.

THE NEXT STEP

In 2010, I lost my race for Congress. That was hard for me. As a lifelong high achiever, I had never failed at anything before, and it took me a while to figure out what to do next. But it also made me realize something that changed my life: my decision to run for Congress took a lot of courage. I had to be brave, and even though I failed, I knew that I had tried. I’d reached outside my comfort zone and done something new, something different, something scary. It made me wonder if, had I done that all those years ago at the dinner table or in school, I might have discovered that I loved coding or math or science.

That’s when I knew it was time to be brave again and use what I’d learned to try to change the game for the next generation of young women.

I decided I was going to teach girls to code. It was an experiment, and I started with a classroom of 20 girls in New York City. I convinced a friend to lend me a conference room at his company and went door-to-door to recruit the first students. I had no idea how people would respond, but I knew I had to try.

TODAY, GIRLS WHO CODE HAS BUILT A MOVEMENT. We run 100 summer programs and thousands of after-school clubs for middle- and high-school girls. We’ve reached tens of thousands of girls in every state in the country.

GUESS WHAT?

It turns out, girls are really good at coding!

They can build incredible things!

And they have fun doing it!

In this book, you’ll read about some of my favorite creations made by real girls: from a game to help young girls see themselves as beautiful to a lighting system that can sense the beat in music and create light displays to match. When you learn to code, you give yourself a tool, a tech super¬power, to create change in your community. You use your voice, your mind, and your skills to find solutions to problems to help your country. And you start to build a better world for each and every one of us.

Not to mention you can make great friends and have an awesome time, too.

SO WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?

This book will teach you how to be a girl who codes and how to build amazing things. You’ll learn the same fundamentals of coding that we teach in our Girls Who Code classrooms. You’ll get an introduction to projects and the fun of learning how to code through games, art and design, robots, website and mobile apps, and online security. We’ll also introduce you to women and girls doing incredible and inspiring things with code. I bet you’ll come away with a burning desire to start creating and join our movement of girls around the country and across the world.

Read more about Girls Who Code; both “Girls Who Code: Learn to Code and Change the World, and “The Friendship Code,” a new series of fiction books, were released today by Penguin Random House.

Reshma Saujani

Girls Who Code

Reshma Saujani is the Founder and CEO of Girls Who Code, a national nonprofit organization working to close the gender gap in technology. She is also the author of the groundbreaking book "Women Who Don’t Wait In Line," in which she advocates for a new model of female leadership focused on embracing risk and failure, promoting mentorship and sponsorship, and boldly charting your own course. She's been named one of Fortune's 40 under 40, a WSJ Magazine Innovator of the Year, one of the 50 Most Powerful Women in New York by the New York Daily News, Forbes's Most Powerful Women Changing the World, Business Insider's 50 Women Who Are Changing the World, and an AOL/PBS Next MAKER. Reshma lives in New York City with her husband, Nihal, their son, Shaan, and their bulldog Stanley.