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Why I’m Over Getting Girls to Code

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the United State of Women Summit in Washington DC. The summit was hosted by the White House and featured the most unbelievable lineup of speakers (Warren Buffett, Oprah, POTUS, Connie Britton, Michelle Obama, Amy Poehler, Shonda Rhimes, Billie Jean King…and the list goes on and on), plus 5,000 women from all over the country convening in one place to talk about our collective favorite topic: women!!!!

Who doesn’t love women?

Some of my favorite moments of the day:

  • Warren Buffett admitting onstage that when his wife recommended an awesome woman to his board of directors he was mortified that he hadn’t thought of her himself. That’s right Warren, why didn’t you?!
  • Michelle Obama talking about how good her husband looks walking across the White House lawn. Yep, it happened.
  • The Mathtastic 4 combining permutations and silent film…you just have to see it to believe it.
  • Spotting Gloria Steinem hanging around the “girls lounge.” I was too nervous to ask for a picture, alas.
  • Meeting other ladies in tech including the founder of Portland Women in Tech (PDXWIT), the Dean of the School of Engineering at The University of Buffalo, and US CTO Megan Smith!

Alright, but it can’t be all good news right? Now, let me tell you what I didn’t like…

As you might imagine in a conference all about women and the future of the United States, tech was a BIG topic. In fact they devoted a whole panel to it, titled “Cracking the Code: Access to STEM for All Women and Girls.”

But you know what was missing? An actual discussion of…getting WOMEN into coding! All of the presenters ran programs whose target audience was girls.

Have you noticed this?

I am sick of hearing about girls coding !!

Ok, now I obviously don’t really mean that.

:: Hyperbole! Everyone, step down! ::

The work that organizations like Code.org and Girls Who Code and Google’s Made with Code and Hopscotch and Black Girls Code are doing to encourage girls to code is nothing short of amazing.

But what I don’t like is that so many high profile conversations about getting women into tech end up actually being discussions of how to get more girls interested in coding and seem to forget women entirely.

In these discussions it’s inevitably brought up that most girls lose interest in the STEM fields around age 13, so we must get to them before 13!!

But I’d like to propose an alternative solution.

It involves metaphorical trampolines. Bear with me…

What if we recognize that a certain percentage of girls may not get exposed to technology before 13, or may lose interest, or may, for any number of reasons, not identify technology as something they are interested in until quite a bit later.

Meaning, yep, we’ve got a leaky pipeline. And it’s leaking girls all over the place.

But instead of focusing our efforts exclusively on keeping girls in the pipeline until they become women, what if we offer women some trampolines that they can use to bounce back into tech jobs later in life?

skillcrush trampoline
What do you think??

Here’s the thing: focusing so exclusively on girls promotes the single most insidious idea that’s keeping women AND girls from flocking to the tech world: that if you don’t learn to code early in life, it’s too late.

Not only is that patently false–allow me to give you myself, nearly all of the Skillcrush team, most people I’ve ever worked with in tech, thousands of Skillcrush alumni, as well as all the graduates of tech bootcamps everywhere as evidence that this is not true–it’s an idea that’s fundamentally out of sync with how the job market currently works.

By now, we’ve all read the statistic that today’s workers change jobs on average every 3 years. And there’s no way we can all go back to college every time we make a jump. Career-long learning, as well as picking up new skills later in life, is simply a requirement of the modern economy.

Constant skill building is the name of this train people! Get on board!

Which is all to say, I want to celebrate WOMEN of all ages learning to code. In fact, I want to celebrate them all day long, every day.

On my Skillcrush trampoline!

Adda Birnir

Adda is not only the CEO and founder of Skillcrush, but also an instructor. With her self-taught tech skills, she’s worked on building sites for the New York Times, ProPublica and MTV.

When Adda isn’t developing or teaching on Skillcrush, she enjoys watching Hall & Oates videos on YouTube.

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19 comments

  1. Nancy Replied

    Yes! I just completed a coding boot camp a week after my 52nd birthday. I began with no knowledge of coding, and I finished six months later. My final project was the creation of a website that supports mentorship for women in technology called “the loop.”  It is never too late to learn to code. Moreover it is crucial to understand that an underrepresentation of women in tech means that men are calling the shots at every level as to what gets developed. 

  2. RS Replied

    This was exactly what I needed to hear today! I’m changing careers and want to go into Coding. I’m terrified because I’m 37 (as of yesterday). I have a great job in Healthcare that I’ve done for 12 years and now I want to do something else that I’ve always been interested in but have had no exposure to. I hope there are more women out there like me!

    • GBell Replied

      I recently turned 37 too and I started my path to learning code with Skillcrush in Aug 2016 and it has been fun and rewarding.

  3. Johna302 Replied

    Hey are using WordPress for your blog platform? I’m new to the blog world but I’m trying to get started and set up my own. Do you require any coding knowledge to make your own blog? Any help would be really appreciated! efeaddefdead

  4. rachel Replied

    my interest in tech started 2 years ago at the age of 22.i started late not because i wasnt exposed to computers,i took computer classes in school,even got certified for some of my classes.i started late with tech because i had no interest in it until i got a job working for an online retailer ,thats when i discovered my interest.the sad thing is since i quite my job and decided to go back to school i haven’t received any scholarships or grants despite the highly campaigned “equality in tech jobs for women and girls”.
    i dont know if am not looking in the right place or the whole bruhaha is just absolute noise .
    p.s check out my campaign on gofundme. the 21st century woman campaign gofund.me/21stcenturywoman

    • Moo Replied

      Starting anything at 22 is most definitely not starting late. Shesh, if 22 is “late” these days, we’re all screwed.

    • Sneha Replied

      Looks like you are going to get a companion on that one. I am 22 now, and engineering student. I was worried to see all the women here 30+ and thankfully found you. I beleive it’s never too late for a good start :)

  5. Anonymous Replied

    This is so encouraging. My husband and I are both just starting out learning to code. We are both in our later 20’s. I’m excited to learn a new skill and hopefully a new trade.

  6. Iwa808 Replied

    Adda, thank you so much for making this point. I am excitedly awaiting the start of my first Skillcrush blueprint as I take on a complete career shift at age 47 into coding with no coding background whatsoever. I consider myself a lifelong learner and relish the opportunity to learn new skills. More importantly, I hope I can be an example to other women like me who are needing or choosing to reinvent themselves professionally mid-career because if I can do it, anyone can do it no matter where you are at in your life!

  7. Anonymous Replied

    I can’t agree more!!  In fact, I’m going back to coding and picking up machine learning :).   I’d also add that women who took a pause in their career to have family often can’t get back into the workforce, what a shame and what a waste of talents!

  8. Anonymous Replied

    Beautiful.  This idea comes from someone who pays attention to what is going on in the work force and who is getting gravely affected by the continuous changes taking place.  Women in their early 30s are beginning to feel the pain of (the not hidden but obvious) age discrimination.  I applaud you and thank you Adda Birnir for not only being an observer but mainly for TAKING ACTION.  You give me HOPE.

  9. Valeria Sasser Replied

    Ditto! Just make sure all ages mean older women as well, from 40s to ….(fill in the blank). Ageism is absolutely hard to fight since it is invisible and it is very unfair. Yes, I am older, but I am on my prime now, full of ideas, with past experiences that makes me see clearly pictures in many situations, but still very curious and interested in the new and I love tech. What a wonderful combination! But this is never seen, only my age. Very bad. I could be of great value in any company. Maybe event he “old auntie” that could balance out a very young team. Who knows? The fact is that I started to learn code last year (and like it a lot!) and I realized that no one was taking me seriously (as in: what kind of career in coding are you expecting? this is just for fun, right?). Very sad. Thanks for going in this direction anyway. You may change the world for older ladies in the future.

  10. GraceOReilly Replied

    Spot on. Because if girls learn to code, then move on to other things, when they come back, it’s all different anyway. We have to be comfortable learning and then learning again. I taught tech in my 20’s after I graduated with a BA in literature and couldn’t find a good job. I had been exposed to some tech early (my mom had me coding in the 1980’s), but had moved on to explore my interest in literature. I self-taught, earned some certifications, and started teaching. It kept me employed until I became a stay at home mom. Now, a decade later, my youngest is in school and I want to get back into a tech related field. Guess what. It’s quite different than it was a decade ago. So I’m learning again. It is important that we keep this fluid mindset and focus not just on the girls, but on all the opportunities for women of all ages to level up when needed.

  11. ChristineM Replied

    Great blog! When I read the title I thought “ok, I have to see what exactly she’s saying here…” but you make such a great point. There was absolutely no way I knew what my career path would be when I was less than 13 years old. Sure I had dream job ideas but I’m sure most little girls these days don’t think to themselves: “Gosh, I just can’t wait to grow up and code!” They have the same dream job ideas at that age that we did: singer, athlete, actor, working with animals, etc. So putting emphasis on WOMEN who are a heck of a lot more sure of what they want and need out of life is so much more worthwhile and beneficial all around.

  12. challfuture Replied

    What a great and truthful article. I am no long interested in some of the things that interest me in my teens, twenties and even thirties. I agree, that girls should be exposed to coding but at the same time don’t forgot about us women. At age 45, thanks Adda’s promos and the Skillcrush team simplified way of teaching made me believe I can code that I can really do this. I finished my first blue-print and LOVED it. Going back for more :)

  13. Weiting Replied

    Reading this while waiting for the next #GoDevSummit to start and it sent goosebumps down me because it is so true! I used to be really into the tech side back in Grade 11 and then shifted to business for University. Now, just recently graduated, I have found a previous interest SO INTERESTING. Thanks for this!

  14. Erica Nicole Carrasco Replied

    I couldn’t agree with you more! Turning 37 on Wednesday, I have just completed my first year of my Computer Science degree and I LOVE CODING!! I’m hooked. I received two certifications at my college this year: Database and Programming. Will have my Associates in May 2017 and move on to my Bachelor’s degree. Super excited about it. I do coding exercises everyday and I spread the word to other people in my community. Women, Men, and children alike. Thank you for writing this.

  15. Tiffany Replied

    Amen! This is exactly how I feel as a woman (and absolute tail-end millennial at that!) learning to code. When I was a girl, it wasn’t even on the table, and it can feel like the ship has sailed or that my generation isn’t “good enough.” I absolutely support advocating for young girls and encouraging them to have opportunities that I never had, but one thing we are missing is that there is still a void of leadership in all fields, particularly as baby boomers leave the work force, and we will still need mid-ish career women to offer a little seasoning into the mix.

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