"...being able to program gives anyone power: the power to better organize and understand information, the power to save time by automating tasks, the power to command a good job, the power to influence how people spend their time and see the world."
Over the holidays my friend Stephanie posted a short video of the tree lighting pattern her daughter programmed as part of the Made With Code project from Google. To encourage girls to learn to program, Google created Made With Code, a series of videos and coding projects to demonstrate the fun and accessibility of coding; Stephanie's daughter coded her tree as part of a project in her 4th grade classroom at her new school in Washington, D.C. I talked with Sydney (SA) and her mom (SSA) to see what they thought of the project and about the effort to encourage more girls to take up programming.
EC: How did it feel to see the light display you programmed light up a tree on the White House lawn? On a scale of one to five, with one being Roswell, New Mexico without aliens* and five being a Katy Perry concert, how would you rate the experience and why?
SA: Four. Because it was really fun being able to see my own tree that I programmed. It makes me really happy to be able to say, "I did that on the computer. I programmed that tree." It's exciting to have that one tree be made by you.
EC: Made With Code is intended to help more girls get interested in computer science and programming. In your experience, are girls as interested in technology as boys? Why or why not?
SA: In my class at my new school, everybody was just so excited to do this class! Everybody had so much fun with coding. Boys and girls had tons of fun. I think it shouldn't make a difference whether it's a boy or a girl coding.
SSA: At the girls' school in CA, there was a robotics club offered for the last two years, and both times it was offered at the same time as the girls' volleyball practices. The first year, there was a small cluster of girls (that joined the robotics club) who were not old enough to participate in athletics yet. In the second year? No girls at all.
EC: How would you explain what a computer program is to someone who had never heard of things like code or programming?
SA: You use certain blocks of information, and put them together to make something you want happen. You may mess up, but you can test it and then redo the code you made.
EC: Stephanie, you and your husband Phillip are tech-savvy parents of two girls, what is your advice to help parents encourage girls to explore code and programming?
SSA: It is almost unfair of me, rather than the aforementioned tech-savvy husband, answer this question. In the interest of timely brevity, I will say that it is clear to the both of us that the world is changing in such a way that being able to program gives anyone power: the power to better organize and understand information, the power to save time by automating tasks, the power to command a good job, the power to influence how people spend their time and see the world. It really is not overstating things to say that, in many ways, being able to program gives people the power to shape the future. As the mother of two girls, and as a woman myself, I believe passionately that this power should be shared equally between men and women, especially to ensure that we have multiple viewpoints and methods of solving problems and value sets "sitting at the table" when we are tackling problems, both big and small.
*Sydney and her family recently took a cross-country road trip as they made the move from California to D.C. A stop in Roswell, NM revealed more sagebrush than extra terrestrial activity.