A question of promoting talent

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’We have fun programming and can be role models for the girls.’: Cla
’We have fun programming and can be role models for the girls.’: Clara Buchholz from the university group she.codes.

When children develop their professional interests, the social environment is extremely formative. Girls often still lack female role models in the field of computer science. The university group she.codes wants to change that and get girls excited about programming.

It is often said that IT is a man’s world. And it is certainly true that, as in many technical careers, the majority of people working in the IT industry - as well as students in informatics degree programs - are male. But the gender gap is shrinking every year.

A university group at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), working with students at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) and other universities in Germany - is now working to create even greater balance. What are they doing? Women studying informatics are offering workshops where young girls learn coding through fun and games.

Clara Buchholz, the she.codes workshops are intended for girls aged 11 to 14. What motivates you to share your enthusiasm for programming with young women in particular?

Clara Buchholz: The field of informatics is still a male domain. At TUM, for example, only around one quarter of all informatics students are women. However, there are studies that show that, up to a certain age, boys and girls actually show similar levels of interest in technology in general and IT in particular. It is only in puberty that their interests develop in different directions. In fact, many of our coaches did not discover programming before their studies.

Girls often lose interest in these subjects between the ages of 11 and 16. Why do you think that your workshops can make a difference?

All our coaches who conduct our workshops are studying technical subjects. We find coding fun and can be role models for the girls taking part. We share our enthusiasm with the participants and let them discover informatics through fun activities. This encourages them to try things out and expand their horizons.

Why do interests develop the way they do in puberty when they are still so similar in childhood?

First, conventional stereotypes are still communicated to children and adolescents today. Programmers are usually male. This stereotype is often spread through books and movies, too. And second, girls are often encouraged differently in our society. There are studies showing that teachers unconsciously suggest very different courses of study for girls and boys. Girls are less likely to be guided towards technical careers. With she.codes, we’re creating an alternative. And a safe space where there are only women and where girls can try things out.

What happens in your workshops?

All of them are suitable for girls who have never tried coding before. That means that no previous knowledge is needed. We offer online and onsite courses. In the online courses, we teach the girls the Python programming language through fun and games. They start by learning to code a short chat program that they can use to ask the computer questions. Or we teach them how to code a rock-scissors-paper game. Onsite we write programs with the Calliope Mini. That is a single-board computer with various sensors. The girls learn how to program a small piano or develop games. That’s a lot of fun because they can tinker with the Calliope Mini as well as writing code.

How steep is the learning curve?

By the end of our four-month code-togetHER program, the participants know how to write a more complicated game, for example - including the integration of a graphic interface. We have seen how this motivates the participants. They can show the game they have coded to their parents, siblings, and friends and let them try it out for themselves.

You’ve been with she.codes in Munich right from the start. What experiences from the workshops have stayed with you?

It’s nice to watch the girls having fun and learning things. I especially love seeing groups working by themselves and helping each other. When one participant has a problem and shares her screen and shows the others where she is stuck. Or when a pupil in a classroom session isn’t quite sure why something isn’t working the way she hoped it would. When the group then thinks about where the problem could be, makes suggestions and finally arrives at a solution - that’s brilliant. It’s also great when participants keep coming back to our workshops and recommend us to their friends or sisters.