During March Break from March 12th to the 16th, 40 girls attended the first Girls Learning Code camp in Toronto, a technology program aimed at getting girls interested in the tech industry by teaching them to create and influence technology as a means of self-expression, instead of merely consuming it.
The camp was created by the tech-savvy leaders of Ladies Learning Code, a not-for-profit Toronto group that provides women with a supportive space to comfortably hone their tech skills. It all started when Heather Payne, a business graduate who had built her own website, decided that she wanted to learn more about coding and tweeted her desire to start a Toronto group for women to build on their programming knowledge. The response was huge, and the group started hosting workshops last summer, which rapidly sold out.
Last year the group also started planning a youth program that would teach girls to change the world, one code at a time. And so Girls Learning Code was born. Hosted at the Mozilla Foundation community space on Adelaide Street West, the week-long program provided girls (ages 9 to 14) with hands-on knowledge in an engaging, fun atmosphere that encouraged confident skill development and exposed them to career opportunities in the tech world.
Camp fees covered resources like software and computers for each girl, and sponsorship from tech companies like the Mozilla Foundation supplied about 15 full and partial scholarships to girls who couldn’t have taken part otherwise.
Payne, one of the program supervisors and a former Girl Scout leader, sees Girls Learning Code as an opportunity to get more girls involved in a male-dominated industry. It was also a chance for the Ladies Learning Code team to create the type of computer camp that they would have loved to attend when they were growing up.
“This is a chance for 40 girls to learn things that they otherwise would probably not be exposed to, meet some excellent female role models who love technology, and also work with 39 other girls who think this stuff is cool. I think we might have created a few more future computer scientists, programmers and designers at Girls Learning Code, and that excites me,” says Payne.
During the week, girls learned programming basics like HTML and CSS and used programs like Scratch, Hackasaurus, and Python to create online games and art while designing and editing web pages. Scratch, which allows users to experiment with interactive animation, was popular with many of the girls. Their main project for the week was to work in teams to create concepts for organizations and develop websites for them using Hackasaurus. The teams presented their progress to the entire camp each day and gave a presentation of their completed website to family and community members at the end of the week.
The girls also went on field trips to the Toronto Google office and Ryerson’s Digital Media Zone, where they got the chance to learn more about careers in technology and hear from female role models in the industry. Payne was pleasantly surprised by the number of girls who expressed an interest in working in technology-related careers and thinks that the camp made a really positive impact on their general attitudes towards it.
Emma George, one such participant, is excited to be part of a new generation of web makers because she will be able to develop new technology that has never been seen before. “I think I will be designing new computer programs or technology or web pages at somewhere like MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology),” says George.
The camp was such a hit that by the end of the week most of the girls had asked about whether another camp would run during the summer, which Ladies Learning Code hopes to make happen. A summer camp would ideally welcome curious newbies and offer former participants a chance to grow through an evolved curriculum. In the future, Payne would also like to see Ladies Learning Code offer weekend workshops for girls that focus on sharpening specific skills.
Hopefully, giving girls the tools and support to get involved in the tech industry will not only open their minds to different career possibilities, but also inspire them to be leaders in technology. Like Payne says, “I don’t want them to see coding as nerdy and geeky, I want them to see it as cool and empowering.”
Adriana Rolston is a sex-positive feminist, a journalism grad and a freelance writer/researcher. She currently works at a sex shop in Toronto and tries to combine her pro-sex, anti-discriminatory politics with selling vibrators and pussy sleeves. In her down time she is learning the ropes of roller derby and searching for the perfect pair of shiny booty shorts.
Video description: footage of Girls Learning Code camp, showing participants working at computers and attending lectures. The candid footage is interspersed with short interviews with participants describing their feelings about the camp.
“The camp’s Girls Learning Code, and it’s like a computer camp, and they teach you how to use different coding programs and stuff like that. It’s definitely really new, and it’s really fun. I really like computers and stuff like that, and I know a little bit about some kinds of coding, but we’re doing a lot of new stuff here. I think it would definitely be useful in regular life. So I think it’s a really good idea.”
“I really just wanted to learn because I really like technology. I like the way it changes my life. I like the different microchips and how much memory they can store using megabytes and gigabytes. I really like robotics, too.”
“I like the hacking stuff – I find it really cool. And the making my own games parts – I feel like I’m famous, I can do whatever I want on the computer now.”
“When you’re with all girls, it’s easier to speak up, because boys tend to laugh at you for what you’re saying more. I think with girls, it’s easier to just be yourself, really.”
“I like that it’s just girls too, because no one actually knows the stuff, so no one can be like ‘I’m better than you because I know this and you don’t,’ because we’re all learning it for the first time.”
“And we don’t judge other people, like ‘oh, I’m better than you on that – we’re learning new stuff all together.”
“I like the venue, too, the area that we’re in. It kind of gives you an idea of how it’s going to be when you’re older and want to go into technology. I do like how it’s all girls because there’s a lot more guys in the technology field, and I think that in the future there’s going to be more girls”
“I thought that a tech camp would be really cool, and that I could maybe work in the future in technology.”
“I want to be an engineer when I grow up, sort of like Steve Jobs, and design computer stuff. But to do that, you need to know how to sell something, so all this web design will be useful if you want to start a business or start-up company.”
“We still have the chance to change the world, too. We can make technology even better than it already is.” “Yeah.”