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High school girls gaining free coding skills
May 27, 2014, 05:00 AM By Angela Swartz Daily Journal

San Mateo Union High School District's Girls Who Code club meets every Sunday to learn to computer programming.

With the job market for engineers surging and a lack of females in those roles, helping more girls gain skills now that would enable them to start careers in computer science is the idea behind Girls Who Code club.

The San Mateo Union High School District club was started by Uma Krishnan, a 17-year-old junior at Burlingame High School. She started the districtwide Girls Who Code club in October 2013 after participating in the inaugural San Francisco season of Girls Who Code held at Twitter last summer. Her team last summer presented their project to Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg.

“It all kind of began last year,” she said. “I always have been interested in computer science, but never really delved into it. It was the most incredible summer of my life.”

During the summer, she learned how to code and is now fluent in JavaScript, HTML and other coding languages. After the summer program, she decided she wanted to help other girls learn how to program. Now, she’s helping teach other girls in the district how to code with the help of a Facebook engineer and professor from University of San Francisco for two and half hours on Sundays at the Burlingame Public Library.

“The issue with computer science is it’s the fasting growing industry, but very few females are in tech or STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics),” she said.

So Krishnan put an ad in the Gifted and Talented Education program, or GATE, to teach girls how to code and she had 60 plus emails asking to join within the first day. She took 35 girls. The curriculum wasn’t ready yet, so the free classes started in October. Girls also go on field trips to Facebook and will finish the curriculum in June.

“Our biggest challenge at first was getting a location because we needed a room with a projector,” she said. “It’s not for college credit, so it’s nice to see learning for the sake of learning.”

The district club is one of the two largest set up by the alums of the summer immersion program from 2013. The club was able to help get about six girls from the district into the summer immersion program at Twitter, Square, Stanford University, Facebook and others.

“None of them knew any CS (computer science),” she said. “The socio-economic differences are incredible [in the summer immersion program]. All of us came together wanting to learn. … You get to meet major tech leaders and now my dream from being a biochemical engineer has changed to being a CEO of a tech company.”

One of the benefits of Girls Who Code is that it’s free and helps students who can’t afford expensive computer science training, she said.

Krishnan is unsure if the club will continue next year but, if it doesn’t, she wants to teach elementary kids to code. Still, this is the kind of initiative she’d love to help develop at Burlingame High School and in the district next year so more students have access to opportunities in technology outside their courses.

“I had a chance to watch students do their final presentations on their projects, and the range of creativity and practicality was incredible to watch,” wrote Burlingame High School Principal Di Yim in an email.

Krishnan also plans to go to India to teach girls to program.

The Girls Who Codes summer immersion program is expanding to four Bay Area companies this summer — Twitter, Square, eBay and Facebook. I have helped in recruiting this year. In December 2013, she presented to Square founder and CEO Jack Dorsey at the mobile payments company to fund the program at Square.

For more on Girls Who Code, visit girlswhocode.com.


(650) 344-5200 ext. 105



Tags: girls, summer, program,

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