The percentage of women in the computer science field has been steadily declining since the 1990s. Currently, only about 20% of the computer science workforce is made up of women, despite more widespread use of technology and a surplus of demand for programmers.
But breaking down stereotypical barriers isn’t new; there are a handful of inspiring women sprinkled throughout our history that have designed technology for medical breakthroughs, renewable energy, space travel, and more.
Essentially, coding is a language and can be applied in a multitude of creative ways that have a meaningful impact on our world. Experts also agree that coding proficiency will be a requirement for most jobs in the future. Therefore, it’s vital that girls are involved in this conversation and have equity in what the future of technology will look like.
There is intrinsic value in having different perspectives on solving problems, and the computer science industry is increasingly acknowledging the need for those different perspectives. Now is the time to level the playing field and give girls the access and tools to those that want to learn to code.
Young girls have astronomical potential once they get involved in coding or any aspect of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Studies have shown that encouragement at an early age is key to bridging the gender gap in the computer science field. Both parents and teachers play a vital part in maintaining that support and encouragement through the ages of 12–17.
Here are five ways high school girls can begin coding—and how educators can help.
5 Helpful Tips On How High School Girls Can Get Started Coding
1. Set Achievable and Realistic Goals
There is nothing wrong with having a goal to change the world. However, new coders need to be realistic in setting goals along the path to getting there. Young developers can write down a big aspiration on a piece of paper and then break it apart into smaller, manageable goals that can be achieved every day or every week.
A helpful tool to accomplish this is the tried and true SMART goal strategy. Each goal, big or small, should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely (SMART). If you know somebody interested in coding, help them to identify their SMART goals and check in with them about their progress. Be SMART and even the most inexperienced coder will be on their way to learning code and changing the world in due time.
2. Join a Community of Empowering Tech-loving Girls
There's something to be said about surrounding oneself with positive, passionate people. Joining a club or community of fellow girls who love to code and are enthusiastic, driven, and creative is a great starting point towards building a meaningful career.
High school girls can seek a club to join at their school (or start one!) or become part of the Girls Who Code community and participate in one of their exciting summer programs. Joining a network of inspiring women will give novices the confidence and encouragement to push past any unfair gender barriers. You can educate students about these communities and encourage them to join. Ultimately, it will lead to countless opportunities for collaboration and growth.
3. Useful Tools Outside of School
No matter what avenue of STEM someone is interested in, there’s an incredible number of resources available in the Sphero Edu app. The Sphero Edu app is a collective community of standards-aligned activities, lessons designed to spark ideas for projects that anyone of any level of experience can start doing at home or in the classroom. It also provides the opportunity to check out what coding projects other high school students are working on with their Sphero robots.
4. Find a Mentor
When it comes to making progress on a passion or career, finding a mentor can provide valuable insights. A mentor can take an aspiring coder under their wing and dish out advice, support, and resources so they can continue to blaze ahead on their path. Furthermore, it will allow young, female STEM pursuers to form meaningful relationships and start building a professional network.
Future female computer programmers can begin by finding a teacher or educator who is passionate about coding or some other avenue of STEM and reach out to them. Most teachers are thrilled at the opportunity to share their passion and, will at the very least, point them in a positive direction. And you can always become a mentor, too.
If there aren’t teachers that fit the bill at school, don't worry. There are organizations such as Girls in Tech that offer free membership opportunities where folks can find a mentor, connect with fellow techies, and gain additional knowledge and skills for professional development.
5. Praise Their Passion to Code
Achieving any goal takes hard work and will be challenging at times. Encourage students to take time to reflect on their passions and stay focused on why coding is important or interesting. Make sure to explain why getting into coding will be beneficial and impactful so high school-aged students will stay motivated. It is especially important to remind students that they can make a difference and will design technology that will improve lives. This type of encouragement and enthusiasm can go a long way.
It's easier said than done but novice programmers need to try not to feel discouraged when their first idea or attempt at a project doesn't work out. If you see a new learning feeling overwhelmed, suggest taking a mental break. This should help them come back with fresh eyes and some new coding inspiration.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor estimates that over half a million jobs in STEM fields are expected to materialize by 2024, with the vast majority being computer science occupations. The demand is there, and it will continue to grow. Supporting and encouraging young female computer programmers to shoot for the stars will help shape the future culture of STEM fields.
As our society continues to face challenging global issues, the need for new perspectives and effective problem-solving solutions is apparent. Many problems facing our world today are being solved through tech which is heavily influenced by a male lens.
Women can provide new insights into how to approach and solve complex problems that haven't yet been solved. High school girls should feel empowered to pursue a technical passion, the ideas and coding skills they start developing today could very well be the unseen solutions to the world’s biggest issues in just a few years.