Chutzpah, Coding and Creativity: My Story of Becoming an Activist for Women in Tech
Okay, you may laugh, but here’s the truth. I learned how to code from one of my favorite websites as a child, neopets.com. As a nine year old, I loved to visit websites where I could create or manage something and show family and friends that “I created it.” After trying to upload a profile layout to make my pets’ page a whole lot more attractive (because what kid under 12 wouldn’t want a profile with tiled images of cupcakes?), I saw that the screen showed errors within the code. I experimented for a while and saw that it needed to be cleaned up and certain elements needed to be spaced apart. I would soon learn, in the years to come, that I would enjoy web design and later become one of the few girls in my high school to advocate women in STEM programs.
My first day of web design class was in 10th grade. I remember sitting in front of the computer, staring at the gray, opening screen of Photoshop CS6. We were encouraged to explore Adobe programs such as Dreamweaver, Photoshop and Illustrator, but I had no previous knowledge of code whatsoever. I just knew that I wanted to create a name for myself in my school and utilize information technology as a tool for me to break out of my shell. As one of those people who was “the life of the party” once you get to know them, I felt that web design allowed me to control my own creativity and speak to people in another language: the language of HTML. For those of you who aren’t familiar with web development-based code, it is a series of elements, tags and brackets that can bring a blank screen to life on the Internet.
As the weeks progressed, my simple “Hello World” prototypes transformed into colorful and informational, unpublished webpages. When everyone would use Adobe Dreamweaver, a program that outlines the code needed for basic webpages, I hand-coded everything from Notepad. I remember coding and re-coding a slideshow for 45 minutes until it was perfect and afterwards, I was very satisfied as the images changed without any clicking at all. I noticed that there weren’t many other girls in my classes, let alone the entire Information Technology Academy in my school. I wanted this to change and by senior year, I was recruiting students for the same computer science-based classes. According to readwrite.com, only 18% of undergraduate degrees are awarded to women and in research universities, the number is even lower, at 14%. My confidence grew as I began to think about ways in which I could inspire young women to pursue careers in STEM. I wrote an article on CNN iReport, applied for scholarships, and in every middle school I attended, I decided to speak about Information Technology and how everyone, especially girls, could get involved. The importance of young women being interested in these fields is crucial for businesses to succeed because of the creativity and T they offer.
The root of the problem still lies within a modern cult of domesticity, or “gendermandering,” similar to gerrymandering, which is present. From an early age, girls are dissuaded from jobs deemed “unfeminine,” such as mathematics, science and technology. This information is definitely not surprising, as there are many websites claiming to make cracks in the glass ceiling that holds women back. Most careers in the STEM field offer substantial salaries, which are aimed to provide for the breadwinner in each household, who is not usually considered a female. But are organizations doing enough to empower girls to defy gender roles in the future? Taking summer coding classes may be a great way to spark interests in IT at an early age, but within time, there may be factors affecting their interests. The media has portrayed women who are driven, intelligent and confident as pushy, masculine and undesirable because they defy typical gender roles. The lack of diversity is shown in television shows, where an obviously nerdy, bespectacled boy dominates the science and computer lab. (Family Matters, anyone?) I learned is that, in order for young women to be encouraged to pursue non-traditional careers, confidence is the key. By speaking to school administrators about the lack of programs available to inspire girls to join the STEM field, students can feel comfortable talking to authority and may possibly spark an interest in an area they did not know about. A young person’s mind may become more intuitive and developed after discovering how and why things work, such as by looking at the internal hardware of their digital devices. Likewise, raising awareness about these programs can give shy children a haven to practice something they enjoy and meet people with similar interests. The Digital Divide program in my high school gave computers to students in need, which benefited the people providing them and receiving them. Overall, if there are enough encouraging organizations present to outweigh gender-discriminating advertisements, young women will be more likely to pursue STEM-related careers. As for me, there is no turning back in supporting those who should be entitled to dream and do as they want to, in any field possible.
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