We are lucky enough to host some really rad workshops, recurring events and classes here at GridAKL, and Girl Code is up there with our favourites. Described as an 8 week software adventure for girls and young women aged 15 and up, Girl Code is an awesome little entry level coding workshop that runs out of our upstairs coworking space each Thursday evening. 

Run by Alice and Matt Gatland, the first Girl Code is almost at completion and the girls are walking away with a functioning website in their tool belt, having learnt to navigate basic HTML and CSS, Javascript, Node.js, group coding tool Git, and general agile planning techniques to keep their project on track. 

I sat down with Alice to find out a bit about herself and Matt, the philosophy around Girl Code, and what they have learnt from the pilot run of this cool little program. 

 

CM: Tell me about the two of you. Whats your background?

AG: Matt used to be a software developer at Orion Health, but got drawn into game development and has also now become involved in a lot of tech education across Auckland, including some other great kids in tech programs like OMG tech.

I am a mixed bag of goodness. I have a degree in engineering, run a regular radio show at BFM, also do the Pop up games arcade. I also used to teach game-making at around 20 different libraries in the Auckland region. 

 

CM: Right, so basically, you have the necessary skills between you then! How many girls did you have in the initial pilot run?

AG: We have 10 girls for the initial series. Our youngest is 14, and our oldest is 24. The 24 year old actually works currently within a software company, although not in a software position - so she is really keen to educate herself at least in the basics of what her colleagues are doing. 

 

CM: Where do you put the world out to find your participants?

AG: We are lucky enough to have some awesome SheSharp connections, who were able to intro us to some young women who were really interested to pick up some skills. We also contacted a few schools directly to get the word out to their students. 

 

Why is there a need for programmes like Girl Code? 

Honestly, the biggest reason for me is that I feel like for these young girls, nobody tells them that they can do this. Its not a deliberate thing…teachers don't even know to put this forward as an option because schools just cannot keep up. There is no way as it is that the education system and curriculum can evolve as fast as technology and its associated career choices. I think its so important that someone tells them they have the option of a career in IT and gives them access to the tools they need to start that learning process. The other side is that the IT industry needs more women. Any sort of problem gains benefit by diversity in approach and perspective, especially creative ones. 

As a women whose background is in engineering, I am also very aware of what it feels like to be such a minority working within a STEM industry, and all the problems and challenges that can come with that. 

 

What have you learnt through the first ‘semester’ of girl code? What changes would you make? 

The first series was super experimental, so we kind of made changes to the format as we went, just figuring out what worked and what didn’t. We will definitely do it all again. One broad change is that we will target not just teens but also women in their early 20’s as we found there was an unexpectedly huge interest within that age group. 

 

What did they build?

We got the group onto building a web app. Its basic and functional. You can post something on a feed, like Twitter or Facebook, and from there we just starting seeing what features we can add. It now has a log in system and image capabilities…its really cool to start with something like that then just add layers as you go. We make sure to incorporate peer to peer project management into the skill base too…those things that are super important when operating in a real work environment. 

 

What languages did you teach them for their first dive into code and why?

We focused mostly on HTML, CSS, Javascript and Node.js. Those particular languages simply because they are the most popular, they are widely used, and they provide a really good platform to build from. If you learn any new language it provides a good starting platform to pick up another and another. There are also specific groups of languages that do similar things so learning the basics of one of each is a good place to start. All of these languages have different strengths depending on what you are building. 

 

What are your best suggestions for online resources, if people wanted to start learning from home?

For kids I would say Scratch - Its cartoony, really good for beginner concepts, game making and getting them understanding specific rules with code. 

For teens and adults, probably CodeAcademy. Its really simple and builds on your skills as you learn in a way that is really engaging and sticky. 

 

 

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