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You Didn’t Start Programming Until College? Let’s Change That.

July 6, 2016

About Me

Sarada Symonds is a second year student currently pursuing a combined BS in computer engineering and computer science. On campus, she is actively involved with the Society of Women Engineers, Enabling Engineering, and the Science Club for Girls. She is also involved with research in cloud security and deployment. This fall she will be starting her first co-op at Yeti in San Francisco.

You Didn’t Start Programming Until College? Let’s Change That.

Most of the engineers I’ve met in college seem to fall into one of two groups: “I never programmed until I started college” or “I wrote my first program when I was 13.” I fall into the former category, and I felt totally out of my depth for the first week or two when I started taking computer engineering courses. In fact, two years later, I still sometimes get hit with that feeling.

This was one of the reasons I was so glad to start volunteering with the Science Club for Girls. Their new program, Tech Team, was being created to teach girls programming concepts and entrepreneurship. By the end of the program, club members had designed their own original Android app, which was submitted to an international competition, Technovation. The competition challenges middle school and high school girls to develop an app and a business plan, and then grants the winners seed money to fund their company.

Tech Team launched last fall, and we started by teaching basic programming and business concepts and creating simple apps for Androids. However, the great thing about Tech Team was that even though there were new skills to learn each week, there was always time for fun and games, and the mentors got to participate. VMWare had donated office space for the team to meet once a week, and they were kind enough to share food from their kitchen or leftover swag from company parties. On Halloween, they even invited the group to their Halloween party, which included a walk through haunted house and tons of cake, cookies, and candy. On the last meeting before Winter Break, we watched Code Girl, the documentary about Technovation teams that was released on YouTube last year.

After break, it turned into crunch time. The competition had officially started, and the group was split into smaller teams that worked together on their apps and business plans. When we started, most of girls had never programmed before. By the end, they had created some amazing apps that improved safety, located volunteer opportunities, and helped young girls cope with depression. Every member of the team programmed, and some girls used their background with graphic design, writing, or film to help bolster their submission. By the time they were finished, the apps looked incredible, and definitely better than the first app I made the summer after my freshmen year.

Volunteering with Tech Team was always one of the highlights of my week. Even if I was feeling overwhelmed with course work or anxious about an upcoming test, when I was volunteering I could completely put aside my problems for once and focus on helping other people. My job was to help answer questions about programming, but I also talked to the members about their schoolwork and afterschool activities. The program also connected me with other amazing people who were volunteering. Science Club for Girls also has an internship program, and one of the members was planning on going on an anthropological dig in South America this summer. I was the youngest, and least experienced, person there, and by listening and asking questions, I learned a lot about what it’s like working in an office, the technologies companies use, and searching for a job in tech.

Although there were a number of benefits to volunteering with Tech Team, I also hope it made some sort of an impact on the members of the team. Even in high school, the number of males in computer science far outweighs the number of females. The goal of Tech Team was to introduce girls to computer science before that happens. It would be amazing if even one member ends up deciding to major in computer science or engineering in college, and can tell her classmates that she’s been programming since she was 13.