One thing I love about Rackspace Blacksburg (aka “Racksburg”) is how we support our local STEM community through both sponsorships as well as Racker volunteerism. But besides sponsoring (and teaching) classes on programming robotics or rocket science, there’s another lesser known need in the STEM community. If you look around most of today’s leading tech companies you’ll notice a pretty significant imbalance of women in tech jobs. Only 18% of today’s Computer Science grads are women (compared to 37% in the 1980s!). A problem you would think should be getting getting better in the 21st century, not worse.
STEM Diversity Movement Helps The American Tech Sector
In a day where more and more tech companies are outsourcing critical Dev and Engineering jobs, even pushing congress for more H1B (overseas tech sector) workers — it’s more important than ever that we build up and make use of our own domestic, female, tech work force. A work force that actually helped create the computer industry in the first place back in the 40s.
Socializing Girls To Code
So what’s the problem? Study after study has shows that technology and STEM related professions are often unknowingly biased to attract boys, while girls are rarely targeted at all. And for girls who are exposed to technology early enough, they still often see themselves surrounded by boys, not their own peers or female role models.. and no one likes to stand out as different. Especially young, socially aware girls.
This issue is actively being addressed by national and community groups such as 100girlsofcode.com, girlswhocode.com, girldevelopit.com and other community level non-profits. These groups have sprung up here just in the past few years to help fill in these female childhood experience and socialization opportunity gaps. When girls see peers and heroes all doing something like programming, the intimidation factor and
social stigmas fall away. It’s an amazing process to witness.
At Racksburg, we’ve found that if you want to be a local tech leader, then you really need to get involved locally. As my wife often says, the grass is always greener where you water it. Now Racksburg already leads several STEM related initiatives within our community (e.g. “Let’s Code Blacksburg!” coding club, various STEM outreach efforts, etc) — but some times it’s better just to follow other thought leaders rather than invent another wheel. That’s why Racksburg supports our community’s new 100girlsofcode.com chapter with both sponsorships and Racker volunteers.
The 100GoC New River Valley Chapter
The event this past weekend was held at Modea in downtown Blacksburg and it was awesome! I love teaching my own daughter programming, robotics and other cool stuff. But this was more than just “another cool tech class” I was dragging her to. It was an appointment for her to get to see other pre-teen girls, like her.. as well as professional female devs (from Modea and other local tech groups) all having fun coding. Normalizing what today, the statistics show is atypical. Tabs (my daughter) has done basic HTML/CSS before and even Python, robotics and C++. So doing some more HTML isn’t why we really came. She didn’t realize it, but I brought her so that she could see other girls doing it too. That’s what makes 100GoC and other girls-in-tech events so important. It is an opportunity for our girls to see other girls and heroes all doing tech. Making it cool, owning it and making it “a girl thing”. I saw more more HTML rendered flowers, unicorns and kittens than I’ve ever seen in one place. It was kind of funny, but also real, authentic and encouraging. These girls were expressing themselves in a way they never had before and you could feel the tech-intimidation and social stigmas falling away. Changing lives. Very cool.
Look around your community and see if you have a local STEM coding club, especially a girls STEM group. If you work for a tech company, sponsor a girl-coding event venue at your location. Or if you’re so inclined, reach out to 100GoC and start your own local chapter! If you’re a parent, sign up your little girl. If you’re a lady developer or CS/Engineering college student, sign-up to become a “geek-girl hero”. Even non technical adults can jump in and grab a clipboard to help organize. Both your community and the future of our industry need your help with this. Don’t waste the opportunity to make an impact on the community in which you live.
The big reward for me was in the short conversation between my daughter and I during last weekend’s event.Half way through the HTML coding event my daughter turned to me and said:
“Wow dad, I didn’t know there were so many girls doing this stuff!”
“Yep. Pretty cool eh?”
 – “The state of women in technology: 15 data points you should know”, Tech Republic
 – “Researcher reveals how “Computer Geeks” replaced “Computer Girls””