Women in tech en­cour­age area girls to learn how to pro­gram

Orlando Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - By Marco San­tana Staff Writer

Learn­ing to pro­gram com­put­ers has been an ed­u­ca­tion for Nathalia Bailey.

The 25-year-old free­lance web de­vel­oper and writer used an on­line train­ing site re­cently to de­velop her skills, de­spite grow­ing up with a data­base soft­ware en­gi­neer father and liv­ing in Sil­i­con Val­ley for a bit.

Now she’s part of a group try­ing to lead the charge to en­cour­age more girls and women to learn how to pro­gram in Cen­tral Florida.

It’s an ef­fort some say has lagged be­hind other re­gions of the coun­try.

Still, new lo­cal chap­ters of tech groups, such as Girl De­velop It and R-Ladies, can help give girls a

“I’m not try­ing to con­vince them all to be pro­gram­mers, but they should all know how to code in the same way that they should all know how to read.” Cas­san­dra Wil­cox, web de­vel­oper

bet­ter idea of what ca­reers are pos­si­ble, said Bailey of Del­tona.

“We need to see this as lit­tle girls so when we do go into col­lege, we have in our minds that we can do some­thing other than teach or be a nurse,” she said. “Right now, those are the ca­reers we are ex­posed to early.”

Ef­forts to in­crease the per­cent­age of women in tech ca­reers have had mixed re­sults. While some say there is in­creased aware­ness of the is­sue, the per­cent­age of sci­ence­based de­gree stu­dents who are women dropped from 37 per­cent to 18 per­cent be­tween 1985 and 2015, ac­cord­ing to the National Cen­ter for Women and In­for­ma­tion Tech­nol­ogy.

Web de­vel­oper Cas­san­dra Wil­cox said she ex­pects that num­ber to climb as more pro­grams reach younger girls.

She has been or­ga­niz­ing a lo­cal chap­ter of Girl De­velop It, a non­profit that of­fers women train­ing in web and soft­ware devel­op­ment.

R-Ladies Or­lando, a de­vel­op­ers meetup group that fo­cuses on the pro­gram­ming lan­guage called R, also re­cently de­buted.

“It’s im­por­tant to start girls young and in­tro­duce them to the idea that tech­nol­ogy is some­thing they are ab­so­lutely ca­pa­ble of get­ting into,” said Wil­cox, who owns the web devel­op­ment train­ing com­pany Code Hangar.

More in­dus­tries have been adding work­ers with tech-re­lated skills. In to­day’s tech-cen­tric world, a cigar com­pany will need a web­site just as much as a city gov­ern­ment will need a mo­bile app.

The skills needed to con­trib­ute to these fu­tures will be cru­cial, Wil­cox said.

“I’m not try­ing to con­vince them all to be pro­gram­mers, but they should all know how to code in the same way that they should all know how to read,” Wil­cox said. “It helps them look at a prob­lem and fig­ure out how to solve it in­stead of see­ing it as some­thing to avoid.”

Fe­male role mod­els in the in­dus­try are key, said Robin Her­nan­dez, Or­lando-based direc­tor of pri­vate cloud of­fer­ings at IBM. She speaks to younger girls and en­cour­ages oth­ers to do so, she said.

“It’s not enough just to get so­ci­ety to agree that young girls are ca­pa­ble of this,” Wil­cox said. “Some of them are raised by moth­ers who be­lieve they may not be ca­pa­ble of it. There is al­ways going to be that lag.”

The Grace Hopper Con­fer­ence served as a three­day cel­e­bra­tion of women in tech­nol­ogy last week in Or­lando. The con­fer­ence re­ported that 18,000 peo­ple at­tended.

The per­cent­age of tech work­ers who are women had jumped slightly last year, from 21.5 per­cent to 22.95 per­cent, ac­cord­ing to Ani­taB.org. Phi­lan­thropist and tech­nol­o­gist Melinda Gates shared the data at the Grace Hopper Con­fer­ence.

En­cour­ag­ing more women to pur­sue tech­nol­ogy-based ca­reers has been a high-pro­file topic in tech for years.

In re­cent years, the fo­cus has been on catch­ing them early, some­times even in el­e­men­tary schools, Elec­tronic Arts’ Mait­land-based Vice Pres­i­dent and head of op­er­a­tions Daryl Holt said.

“It’s im­pos­si­ble to raise the num­ber of fe­male work­ers in tech­nol­ogy un­less you start to build a pipe­line of in­ter­ested tal­ent,” he said.

To do that, Holt said the com­pany of­ten hosts stu­dent groups at its lo­cal Tiburon game-devel­op­ment stu­dio, where games like NBA Live and Mad­den foot­ball are made.

EA met young peo­ple in­ter­ested in sci­ence, tech­nol­ogy, en­gi­neer­ing and math­e­mat­ics ca­reers at the Grace Hopper Con­fer­ence.

The com­pany is “not only en­cour­ag­ing, but also ac­tively shap­ing a fu­ture they can see for them­selves in a world where STEM is the new nor­mal,” Holt said.

msan­tana@or­lan­dosen­tinel.com, 407-420-5256 or Twit­ter: @mar­cosan­tana

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