Technology

Calling all ‘Girls who Code,’ Kansas City and your nation needs you

KC Girls Who Code visit Plaza Apple store

The future tech workforce is going to need more women on the job, and a Girls Who Code field trip to the Apple Store on the Plaza aims to further that mission.
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The future tech workforce is going to need more women on the job, and a Girls Who Code field trip to the Apple Store on the Plaza aims to further that mission.

This can be you. This can be you. This can be you.

Kansas City women living the life of engineers, computer scientists and mathematicians more than ever are telling this story to girls wherever they can find them.

Here’s Annissa Freeman of Shawnee, chaperoning the Kansas City Girls Who Code club on a recent visit to the Apple store on the Country Club Plaza.

She wants the girls to know that “I love the work I do,” says the specialist in human-computer interaction, a master of programming databases.

But she and other mentors don’t just want the girls’ admiration.

The question is: Do you see yourself?

The crusade by professional women is about sparking “a STEM identity,” said Martha McCabe, executive director of the KC STEM Alliance.

STEM is an acronym for science, technology, engineering and math. Women are severely under-represented in these careers. The job demand ahead is high, and Kansas City-area businesses are weary of having to do so much recruiting away from Kansas City to lure enough skilled workers.

In short, we need more girls who code.

The national trends according to the National Center for Women and Information Technology show girls are capable, but don’t carry through in STEM careers.

Girls make up 56 percent of all Advanced Placement test-takers, but only 19 percent of those taking AP computer science tests.

Women earn 57 percent of all undergraduate degrees, but represent only 18 percent of people with computer and information sciences degrees.

Women coding activists in Kansas City see a robust year in 2017 that may signal a turning of the tide.

The Kansas City Women in Technology mentoring programs — with some 140 volunteers now — are sold out now into the spring, said its founder, Jennifer Wadella. Their team expects to accumulate even more mentoring hours than the 1,197 in 2016.

“We’re wondering, is it New Year’s resolutions? Are women getting passionate about code?” Wadella said. “We’re selling out across the board.”

“Across the board” means selling out their Kansas City chapter of CoderDojo, CoderDojoKC, for girls and boys; and a couple of their own creations, Coding and Cupcakes for parent-daughter teams, and Coding and Cocktails for women who want to get a start in the tech world.

Many women in STEM careers are telling their stories on the KC STEM Alliance web page.

They want girls pursuing the tech careers, relishing the challenges, purposefully from the start.

Because not enough women are “stumbling” into tech careers the way Wadella and Freeman say they did.

Wadella was a graphic designer, scrambling to start her career just as the recession was killing jobs. She had to learn web page design to have a chance, and she taught herself.

“The challenge of it made it feel more great,” she said. And now she is a software engineer full-time.

Freeman earned her undergraduate degree in psychology. She was living near the University of Chicago, and a friend there doing research asked for help analyzing data sets. Soon she was back in school, studying human-computer interaction.

She looked across at the girls in the Apple store, exploring Apple’s coding program, Swift.

They’ll grab on and run with coding, Freeman said, once they realize “they can do this,” and that coding “translates into anything — fashion, anime, track — anything.”

Ruby Rios, 16, a Bishop Miege High School student who started this chapter of Girls Who Code, knows the feeling. She thinks of herself as a lover of stories. What she discovered, she said, is that “coding is like reading a story.”

Her friends are making their own connections, she said. One who loves health care wants to pursue the science of computerized facial recognition in detecting early onset of disease. Another is caught up in the potential uses of LED lighting. Another is taking coding into her fashion designing.

“No matter what you do,” she said, “there are ways to incorporate coding and engineering.”

It can be you.

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