If you look at the demographics of Silicon Valley and the modern tech industry writ large, it may not initially be apparent that software engineering and programming were founded by women. But women are at the center of the history of computer science.
In the 1840s, Ada Lovelace wrote the first computer program in the world, an algorithm for a proposed mechanical computer that mathematician Charles Babbage devised (but never fully built) known as the Analytical Engine.
A century later, many women were professional “computers,” solving mathematical equations to support science and engineering projects. Six of the best computers at the University of Pennsylvania’s Moore School for Electrical Engineering were chosen to program the ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer), the world’s first general-purpose electronic digital computer: Kathleen McNulty, Frances Bilas, Betty Jean Jennings, Elizabeth Snyder Holberton, Ruth Lichterman, and Marilyn Wescoff.
In the 1960s, Margaret Hamilton programmed the guidance and navigation software that enabled the Apollo spacecraft to safely reach the moon and return, and coined the term “software engineering” to distinguish the discipline from work on mechanical elements. Perhaps you’ve seen her famous photograph with the stack of code she and her team wrote.
Girls Who Code is one important organization that works to ensure women today get equal opportunities in tech — building on the legacy of the women who pioneered this field.
Meet Girls Who Code: A Nonprofit Helping Women Build Thriving Careers in Tech
What is Girls Who Code?
Girls Who Code is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to closing the gender gap in tech. The organization helps girls in primary and secondary school learn coding from beginner to advanced levels in a supportive and fun environment built on sisterhood, encouraging girls “to see themselves as computer scientists.”
The organization “values diversity, equity, and inclusion as essential to our mission. We focus our work not only on gender diversity but also on young women who are historically underrepresented in computer science fields.” To that end, Girls Who Code has taught over 300,000 girls, with 50% coming from “historically underrepresented groups, including girls who are Black, Latinx, or from low-income backgrounds.”
What does Girls Who Code do?
Girls Who Code runs after school coding programs for girls in the 3rd through 12th grade, college programs to help GWC alumni do well in their careers and connect with more women in tech, and 2-week virtual summer programs for rising high school juniors and seniors to help them explore coding and learn more about jobs in the industry.
All coding club students learn fundamental concepts that undergird every programming language, including loops, variables, conditionals, and functions. From grades 3–5, students in GWC clubs work on creative problem-solving and read GWC books, with free curriculum and support. Students in grades 6–12 have the opportunity to complete a computer science project that addresses a tangible issue affecting their local community, and also benefit from “free curriculum, meeting guides and tutorials, and facilitator support.”
Currently, the organization offers Girls Who Code Talks, “a virtual program for the Girls Who Code alumni community focused on protecting the pipeline [of future women software engineers] during the COVID-19 crisis. Through live virtual events, newsletters and social media content, we will connect and support the Sisterhood as women navigate changes in their college, internship and career plans.”
Girls Who Code also identified four public policy goals to closing the gender gap not just in the professional tech world, but also in classroom learning: “track and report data on computer science participation, expand computer science courses to all middle schools, increase exposure to women and other underrepresented minorities in tech, and fund gender inclusion training within professional development.”
Why support Girls Who Code?
Girls Who Code deserves support for myriad reasons, from its measurable impact providing a supportive environment for girls to explore programming and computer science, to the ways in which it builds community and connections for students long into their careers. Overall, Girls Who Code is doing the important work of rectifying a more recent shift away from gender parity within tech.
Women have always been making monumental achievements in computer science and the field of software engineering specifically — they created this field, after all. By working to give all women better opportunities to explore their passions and thrive in tech, Girls Who Code is fostering a more innovative, collaborative, and beneficial industry for the future.
How to Support Girls Who Code
To support Girls Who Code:
- Donate directly to Girls Who Code
- Get Involved through campaigns, corporate partnerships, and more
- Subscribe to Girls Who Code’s email list to stay up-to-date
- Shop and donate your cash back using Giving Assistant
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