"Don't just buy a new video game - make one. Don't just download the latest app - help design it. Don't just play on your phone - program it!"
That’s just how clear Obama was in September, 2013, when he kicked off Computer Science Education Week. The truth is that though we may not realize it, we are completely surrounded by software, and computer apps that are essential in our life. Who doesn’t use social networks to keep in touch with family members and friends or to be informed on what’s going on in the news? Who doesn’t use an app on their cell phone to organize notes and work tasks? This is just the present. In the near future, computer science will also be able to do things such as to take us home in a car that won’t even require a driver.
Thus, these technological processes are the elements currently governing our life. Programming, the process that seeks to develop programs enabling machines such as computers and cell phones to do as we wish, is the language in which our world is written. However, the lack of diversity existing among its narrators is truly disheartening. In 2010, women represented 25 percent of the work force in the US technological industry, according to data from the National Center for Women and Information Technologies. The alarm went off last year when the large companies in Silicon Valley began to publish data regarding their employees. In 2014, women barely represented 18 percent of the total tech jobs at Linkedin or Google, while the numbers increased to 20 percent at Apple. The numbers are lower with regard to race. At that time, whites and Asians accounted for 94 percent of the tech experts at Linkedin. At Google, Latinos and African-Americans barely represented 5 percent of the payroll. One more piece of data: Facebook only hired seven African-Americans in the last year, according to the latest report. .
“Beyond social, economic conditions… in the end, it is a matter of skills.” That is what Sylvester Mobley, founder of the organization Coded by Kids, wants to teach youngsters from Philly. He organizes workshops introducing children –some who are as young as 5 years old—to programming. As an employee in the technological industry, Mobley became aware that “there was a series of groups outside the industry.” “Even if companies intend to hire more minorities and more women, these people are not graduating from school with the skills they need to be employable in the tech industry,” Mobley argues. In this way, from Coded by Kids, he states that “we wish to provide children with the skills so that later, no matter what happens, no one can say that they are not ready to qualify for a job.” “Technology is one of the few industries in which one can opt for a good job simply by graduating from high-school,” and where a “college degree is not necessary.”
The US labor market is precisely one of those sectors that can benefit from incorporating women and minorities. The country will need to join hundreds of thousands of new workers to the labor force in the coming years if it wants to continue to maintain its competitiveness. The Labor Department predicts that in 2020 there will be 1.4 million new jobs related to technology. Only 400,000 of these are expected to be occupied by people with university studies. This is why, in the opinion of Tracey Welson-Rossman, founder of Tech Girlz, businesses should become concerned with this matter “and go beyond creating more diverse equipment or creating better products.” “We simply need more technology experts,” she said. Welson-Rossman considers that “there are many opportunities for those with technical skills, such as software developers, but also hardware, cybersecurity, data analytics…” though she regrets that there is “a lack of information regarding what to do.” “Companies need these workers and these are well-paid jobs,” she concludes.
"It is important having some sort of basic grasp on coding"
For Cassandra King, a Boricua programmer residing in Philadelphia, the importance of coding knowledge is not limited to the field of professional developers. “Today, the language at the workplace is wrapped up in technology. If you want to grow and ensure you have a successful, enjoyable, fruitful future, it is important that you have some sort of basic grasp on coding.” Therefore, for this project collaborator who promotes education on programming such as Coded by Kids or Girl Develop It, which invests in the greater integration of women in this field, “it is our call to duty to usher this new generation of kids, specifically minority kids who always get left behind in the tech world.”
Different organizations in Philly are currently dedicated to the mission of opening programming languages up to a broader and more diverse part of the community. All of them in this way enable access to programming lessons, through both live and online courses, both at a low price and even free of charge. If lack of resources was, at one time, a limiting factor in learning how to be a programmer, thanks to these projects in the City of Brotherly Love, this problem is a thing of the past. However, if you, the reader, are already a technology professional, note that all these entities are also looking for you. As important as those who decide to take their first coding lessons are those who share their knowledge with them. This is quite clear to Cassandra King: “It is our duty to be sure they have the skills, tech language and ability to be competitive in their young adult lives. This is something I believe in passionately. We, as minority tech professionals owe it to the next generation ... they are our future...”
Mission: Code for Philly is an organization that creates opportunities for citizens to modernize Philly through the power of the Web. According to its director, Dawn McDougall, the greatest power of programing is understood when “it is used through collaboration”.
For: Technology experts, people interested in civic issues or women interesting in coding.
Available courses: The second edition of Open Source Mentorship Program is currently underway. With the collaboration of Girl Develop It, the objective of this program is to increase the number of female contributions to technology.
Mission: “Girl, develop it!” began in New York, in 2010, as a call for action for all those women tired of the scarce female presence in the technological world who are betting on change. They currently make up a network present in 46 cities in the country offering a space in which women feel confident in programming apps and web pages.
For: Women of all races, education and income levels who want to develop new technological skills. Available Courses: Girl Develop It offers a large variety of programming courses, periodically and for as low as $25, both for beginners and advanced professionals. Mobile app development, web design and programming languages such as HTML or Ruby are some of the most recurrent subject matters.
Mission: The aim of StudentRDN is for students throughout the country to fall in love with programming. They are promoters of CodeDay, a national event held in dozens of US cities, including Philly, where youths with no prior experience are challenged to create a mobile app in 24 hours.
For: Youths that have never been interested in programming, especially young girls, minorities and students of low socio-economic status.
Available courses: StudentRDN offers full immersion into programming through its next CodeDay, a free appointment where they bet on learning how to program by collaborating with others.
Mission: Pilot’s Philly branch favors an education that makes it easy for youths to learn how to think creatively, to develop projects and, at the same time, enables them to gain technical skills. To achieve this, they organize work groups made up of four members under the supervision of a professional who is in charge of guiding them while they learn new skills.
For: School students. Available courses: PilotPhilly promotes learning by creating. It organizes eight-hour events in which youths learn how to develop a web page or a cell phone app with the help of the best specialists in the city. It’s all for free.
Mission: Offers free web page development and design classes for kids in Philadelphia. Its courses are offered by professional developers who teach young kids the skills they will need to also become developers or engineers.
For: The project presently offers classes for children as young as five years old, but in August they will also begin classes for adults. Available courses: Web Development Academy, a 12-week program for adults to be able to learn how to program web pages. For youngsters, Coded By Kids offers both after school classes and school and institute-integrated programs to learn HTML or to start off in the world of web development.
Mission: To help middle school girls understand what’s going on in technology through more accessible resources such as on-site courses as well as interactive lessons. Over three thousand girls have now benefitted from these courses, two thousand only in the last year, thanks to its on-line learning project.
For: Middle School girls