Like A Girl

Pushing the conversation on gender equality.

Code Like A Girl

The future of tech, and why I got involved.

I was in high school when I got my first computer. As a kid who loved to write, I remember being so thrilled about typing out long stories and seeing the words in front of me on that screen. I could care less that it was a big, boxy, outdated hand-me-down.

Two years ago, I joined a nonprofit organization as their first Communications Director, tasked with launching an effort to bring computers to low-income kids who wanted to learn to code. I didn’t know how to code, and still don’t. I hardly understood the tech industry, and half of the jargon and language used to describe the capabilities and our programs for kids. But still, I accepted the job — because I’m not much different from the kids served. I come from a low-income household. We couldn’t afford anything beyond the essentials. I was also the first in my family to graduate from college. I had a lot of dreams growing up, and even though I didn’t have the resources, I knew no barriers.

I imagine that most of the kids served by the organization are the same. They’re excited to learn, and determined to accomplish new things; regardless of whether or not their family can provide the means necessary to get there.

I joined because I saw a bit of myself in the kids we served. And I believe that all kids deserve the opportunity to learn and the means to pursue their dreams, whether or not I understand what those dreams are.

I love that we gave those students something concrete and something that they could own, to learn and grow in their interests. And the demand pouring in from interested kids was astonishing — we couldn’t keep up, which proved that there was a need. And frankly, I loved that we were changing the face of the future of tech. As much as some organizations are afraid to speak out and say bluntly — by serving mostly low-income students, you’re serving mostly students of color; it’s the truth. And I wasn’t afraid to speak openly about that being a personal driving factor for me being there.

It was about creating opportunities, and impacting the future.

We served a lot of kids. A bit over 500 in the end. We partnered with 27 coding organizations. All based on crowdfunded laptops, one at a time — by individual donors. 500 kids who were interested in learning to code, but couldn’t afford a computer of their own — got one from us.

And I received a lot of interest from the tech industry in partnerships during my time there. I attended SXSW and hustled my way into every sort of meeting. I formed the beginning of partnerships with Apple, Google, Microsoft, and the White House. I told them that I previously met with a competitor. They didn’t care — it was about the kids, and using resources to give back. Each invited me to come to their offices, to present about the work we were doing and share personal stories of the students. The companies were interested in doing more, sponsoring computers, and spreading the word. The White House asked us to attend a tech event with students who were successfully coding new programs thanks to our efforts. I tried to organize a group of middle school students who were creating their own disaster preparedness app. We didn’t have enough time or resources to organize a cross-country trip. But we tried, hard.

Unfortunately, the organization couldn’t activate fast enough; on the partnerships, the demand, the supply — and the organization had to shut down. Although we had connected founders, we were small. It’s a shame it shut down, especially when there was so much potential to do more and better.

Still, I hold that experience close. I mentored several students while working there whom I formed a relationship with, and we still regularly check in on life updates and career goals. We follow each other on Snapchat now. They’re girls from the Mission — who’s parents only want to see them succeed and be happy. These parents will do just about anything for them — they were willing to use their savings to send them across the country to the White House.

The girls don’t know if they want a future of coding, but they’re damn proud of what they’ve learned and created — while still only being pre-teens. They see open doors, and they’re full of excitement about the future. They’re much like the other 495+ students who were impacted by our work in our short time.

So even though the organization is no more, I wanted to share a bit of my experience there. It’s important that we give back, mentor, and show kids the potential for a future that they might not have thought possible. And if it forces us out of our comfort zone in the process — all the better.

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