Coding Programs Give Women Engineers a Leg Up in Their Careers

Several projects empower more women to enter computer science careers

15 August 2014

Photo: Tim Tjahjadi

CodeChix, which hosts local community events for women developers, invited its members to a Google Glass developer workshop in the San Francisco Bay Area in February.

High-tech companies are trying all sorts of ways to boost the number of women engineers. Google recently committed US $50 million over the next year to help encourage young girls to become coders with its Made with Code initiative. Launched in June, the project includes introductory coding projects like making a bracelet and printing it on a 3-D printer, and inspirational videos about women who are using code in their dream jobs. The initiative also includes partners such as the Girl Scouts of the USA, MIT Media Lab, and the National Center for Women and Information Technology. But Google isn’t the first to encourage women and young girls to take up coding; other efforts have been underway for years.

IEEE Member Rupa Dachere launched the award-winning CodeChix in 2009, the first such program of its kind. She used her own money to start this grassroots effort to educate, promote, and mentor women developers. Dachere is its executive director as well as a member of the technical staff at VMware, in San Francisco. Through chapters set up by local women developers, CodeChix strives to foster continuous learning, provide mentorship and guidance, and create a local community of women developers from industry and academia. It targets women engineers already in the field, recent female graduates, and those returning to work after a break. There are now 1,500 members. Chapters originally were formed in California’s Bay Area but they have expanded to Madison, Wis.; Milwaukee; Redmond, Wash.; and Seattle.

In May CodeChix held its first hands-on hardware and software workshop to code Pi Doorbell, a home automation device that notifies homeowners of visitors. Other events include building Star Trek-like LED lights, various hackathons, and hands-on developer workshops. The chapters also have held technical talks and workshops that are open to the public.

IEEE recently recognized Dachere’s efforts with the 2013 IEEE Educational Activities Board’s Meritorious Achievement Award in Informal Education for “establishing a non-profit organization that provides educational programs and mentoring for females in computer programming.”

Square, the designer of credit card readers for smartphones and tablets, based in San Francisco, invited attendees of the IEEE Women in Engineering (WIE) International Leadership Conference, held in May, to the graduation ceremony for students of its High School Code Camp. This eight-month program teaches programming to female students to help prepare them for the advanced placement computer science exam. Square engineers developed the computer science curriculum and hold lectures for the students twice a week at the company’s headquarters. The students also participate in hands-on lab projects. For this year’s final project, student teams built Android mobile apps.

Square also runs a College Code Camp, which is a four-day immersion program that aims to inspire, educate, and empower the next generation of women in technology. The program uses leadership sessions, coding workshops, and a hackathon to build a stronger community around women in technology.

“We introduce the young women to Square engineers and our inspiring women executives, including Chief Financial Officer Sarah Friar, Business Lead Françoise Brougher, and Engineering Lead Alyssa Henry,” Lindsay Wiese, the company’s communications lead, who is involved with the camps told me. “By hosting and building Code Camp in-house, we are able to expose the young women to a wide variety of opportunities in engineering. 

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