In a notoriously male dominated industry, rising Boston Area high school senior and BodiMojo intern Laurie Finkielsztein, is working hard to share the Girls Who Code initiative with other Boston Area High School girls and she’s already seen huge success. We were happy to sit down with Laurie and hear her story.
Photo via: www.usatoday.com
Founded in 2012 by Reshma Saujani, Girls Who Code is a non-profit organization dedicated to increasing the number of women in computer science. The organization runs summer programs which teach computing and programming skills to high school girls like Laurie.
To show a few statistics: In 1984, 37% of all computer science graduates were women, today that number has narrowed to 18%. 20% of AP Computer Science test-takers are women, and 0.4% of high school girls express interest in majoring in Computer Science. What’s going on?
Photo via www.citylab.com
Girls Who Code works to close the gender gap in technology by inspiring girls to pursue computer science and exposing them to real life and on screen role models. The organization engages engineers, developers, executives, and entrepreneurs to teach and motivate the next generation of women in technology. Girls who code employs guest speakers, mentors, and instructors who are leaders in their fields, working in positions participants aspire to attain.
Here at BodiMojo, we’re all for creating a healthy gender-ratio in the technology field and helping women obtain the confidence needed to be successful in a currently male-dominated industry. We were happy to interview Laurie, who has now successfully brought Girl’s Who Code chapters to the following Massachusett’s cities: Newton, Brookline, Wellesley, Watertown, Waltham and Lexington.
Here is BodiMojo’s question and answer session with Laurie:
BM: When did you first hear about Girls Who Code and what made you want to start the six chapters that you did in the Boston area?
LF: I first heard about Girls Who Code from a Humans of New York blog post during the summer of 2013. As soon as I heard, I got on their mailing list until their application for the 2014 Summer Immersion Program in Boston came out. I applied and was accepted to the immersion program which really changed my life. Not only did I learn technical skills, but I also gained the confidence needed to go into a male dominated field. This was my motivation behind starting the six chapters.
There are so many stereotypes that computer science is only for boys, that is a huge factor in why there is such a wide gender gap. I want to help close this gender gap by showing younger girls that computer science is something anyone can learn and do. By giving young girls a supportive environment like this club, they too will gain the confidence not to be discouraged by a male-dominated field.
BM: Did you have someone who helped you along the way to accomplish what you have started, a role model, or perhaps a parent? What did that person do to help motivate you along the way?
LF: I think my role models have been powerful women like Sheryl Sandberg and Ellen Pao. They have showed me what it is like to not be discouraged going into male-dominated fields, and how to stand up for myself when something it not right. Even though I have never had a full conversation with either of them, the work they do, and everything they have accomplished in their life inspires me to do the work I do and pursue a similar career.
BM: What kind of challenges have you seen in starting the six chapters and how did you overcome those challenges?
LF: My biggest challenge has been timing. I started the first club in the fall of 2014 which happened to be my junior year in high school, a very academically demanding time. I started to plan the fall 2015 launch of the 6 chapters in the spring right before big exams. I definitely had a lot of late nights with not much sleep, but my motivation helped me overcome it. I’m so passionate about getting younger girls involved in computer science, and they are the reason I kept pursuing more clubs.
It has also been really hard to find instructors who will volunteer their time once a week for two hours. It’s a big commitment on their end because they also have to do some lesson planning, but luckily I was able to use library outlets and my own connections to find instructors that are similarly passionate about closing the gender gap.
BM: What have you done to motivate other young women to take part in Girls Who Code, how do you encourage high school women to join who may be unsure of whether or not they want to?
LF: There are so many girls in the Boston area who are already self-motivated to learn how to code. There just aren’t many opportunities for middle school and high school girls to be in a supportive group like this club where they can learn to code with other self-motivated girls. This is why these clubs have had so much success. The truth is, computer science has endless purposes. Even by learning a little computer science, it can take someone so far in our world that is surrounded by technology. It’s a skill that everyone should learn, regardless of their interests, because computer science is a part of our everyday lives.
BM: How many people are involved with running the six chapters you started? Do you answer any questions they may have in terms of managing the chapters, or is there someone else at a national level that does that?
LF: There is no one that directly helps me manage the six clubs. I reach out to a library and then I find an instructor. The library helps me with advertising the club in the particular town and once the club is ready to start, the instructors are able to take everything over. I’m the go-to person if the library, instructors or the occasional parent has a question. If for some reason I can’t answer the question, there is a group at Girls Who Code that manages clubs so they are there for support.
BM: How do you see Girls Who Code as a way to help you in your future? Do you aspire to be a developer, an entrepreneur, or are you not sure yet?
LF: Girls Who Code has provided me with an environment to not only develop my technical skills, but also to serve as a huge support group. I’m not exactly sure of my career path at this point in time, but I do know that after my experiences with these Girls Who Code Clubs and with BodiMojo, I do in some way want to combine computer science (or technology) with business.
BM: Where are you attending college and do you think that you will pursue leading a similar organization there?
LF: I’m a rising senior in high school right now, so I don’t know where exactly I’m going to go to college. But, I will definitely join some type of club or organization that is related to empowering girls in computer science or technology. I will also try to start a Girls Who Code Club chapter in a nearby town, or wherever I go to college.
BM: If you could give one piece of advice to young women interested in technology, what would it be?
LF: My piece of advice would be to not get discouraged if this is what you really want. There will be people who try to discourage you from pursuing a technology related career for any variety of reasons. The key is to find a supportive group of people, men or women, who will encourage you in your career path and not let you get put down by outside factors or people.
Check out Laurie’s first internship project: a two-minute video demo of the BodiMojo app!
Want to get to know Laurie more, and learn more about participating with Girls Who Code Chapters in the Boston Area? You can email The BodiMojo Team at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Click here to get involved with Girls Who Code on a national level.