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Code Like A Girl

Why I Volunteered for the HackerGrrlz Program

As far back as I can remember, I have always been drawn to technology.

When I was 8 years old, I spent nights and weekends in front of an Atari 2600 console playing Space Invaders, Keystone Kapers, Vanguard, Pitfall, Donkey Kong and Ms. Pac Man. I was a gamer girl before there was a name for it.

When I was 11 years old, my parents gave me a Commodore 64, and that’s when the real fun began. I spent every spare moment that I had learning to program. Rather than just being content to play the games someone else had developed, I learned to create my own entertainment. Nothing fancy. Most of the programs I developed were simplistic and served no real purpose. But to me, they were valuable.

Back then, it was a hobby. Something I loved to do while my friends enjoyed playing outside.

Back then, no one told me this would be a viable career option to pursue. There were no programs in my school to nurture this spark. There were no women in my community who I could look up as role models. Code camps, hackathons, and community groups didn’t exist.

That is why I didn’t hesitate to sign up for the HackerGrrlz pilot program when Stephanie Rozek, Director of Year of Code Waterloo Region (YoCWR), asked if I would be interested in volunteering as a mentor.

This was the type of program that I wished for when I was younger. This is the type of program that is desperately needed for young girls today. There are so many great initiatives to encourage women to study and work in STEM. But, as I mentioned in a podcast interview last year, we need to encourage young girls as early as possible to learn how to code.

I didn’t know what to expect when I attended the first session at a local school with Stephanie, and 2 other mentors — Joan and Vaiva. I was excited, but also nervous. Would this group of young girls be open and receptive to programming?

Walking into a computer lab of young girls ranging in age from 8–13, I could sense their excitement and willingness to learn. I was delighted to see that they were following along with the code tutorials, they were asking questions, they were helping each other, and they were having fun.

I was surprised to see them take what they learned a step further to create scenes, characters, and sound clips, which they incorporated into games they designed.

The creativity that each girl demonstrated was impressive. Week after week, their interest in the program didn’t fade. Week after week, I looked forward to returning to the school with my fellow mentors.

It was a bittersweet feeling when we wrapped up the pilot program. We had made great progress in such a short amount of time. I hope these young girls will continue to explore the possibilities that STEM holds for them.

I hope they know that there are many women in this industry who will support and encourage them.

I hope that by the time they graduate post secondary and enter the work force, they will be walking into a field that no longer suffers from any form of bias.

I hope that when they grow up, they mentor, support, and encourage their fellow females, and the next generation to follow.

I would like to give a huge shout out to Stephanie for creating YoCWR to promote digital literacy in the community, and for running the HackerGrrlz program for young girls.

As of July 1st, YoCWR will transition into Hive Waterloo Region to continue the good work that it has started in the community, and it needs your support!

To celebrate this transition, YoCWR is hosting the EUREKA! gala fundraising party on June 17th. This is a charitable event with interactive tech and art stations, maker activities, and inspiring female speakers. Later in the evening, Juno-nominated Alysha Brilla and DJ Scarlet Spades will perform live.

All attendees have the chance to win some great door prizes like a Myo armband from Thalmic Labs — a great local tech innovation.

Tickets are available at www.yocwr.ca/gala. Each ticket includes 2 free drinks and door prize tickets.

I hope you join me in supporting this worthy cause!

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