A documentary garnered to inspire women to embark in the world of software development was released recently. This documentary, CodeGirl was made by filmmaker Lesley Chilcott and was released on YouTube from Nov 1st-5th, due to a partnership with Google’s Made with Code initiative, for free before being released in theaters.
The premise of the film touts an interesting statistic, stating that by 2017, the app market will be valued at $77 Billion. Over 80% of these developers are male. This statistic begs the question why more girls are not interested in computer science. Some of the most notable computer scientists in computational history were women such as Grace Hopper and Ada Lovelace. In order to combat this statistic, initiatives like Technovation, the competition that is the backdrop of the film, are starting to try to encourage women to break down this gender gap and become involved in software development.
Technovation is a competition for teams of high school girls where they are required to: design and develop an app that solves a social problem and draft a business plan and pitch for their company. The winning team of the competition receives $10,000 which can be used to fully publish their app and jumpstart their company.
Throughout the documentary, we are introduced to teams from all over the world. Some of the teams come from places that seem far less advanced than Silicon Valley, like Team United Smart Girls from Drochia, Moldova where there is no university and little to no work for the people of the town. As we see these teams throughout the film, it is noteworthy to consider that some of these teams are trying to do much more than code: they are trying to make a better life for themselves.
Although not all teams are in such harsh conditions environmentally, another team from Anaheim, California, Team Psychos dealt with their own struggles specifically in creating a team. “Most of the girls were like, ‘Computer science is for boys,’ or the stereotypical responses that most people get,” said the leader of “Team Psychos,” finally finding girls from other schools to fill their team, and presenting an insight into the societal stigma and stereotypes that still surround computer science.
We are introduced to various other teams: Team Voca from Guadalajara, Mexico, and Team iFrench. Out of the initial four teams that are profiled, only iFrench’s application, a peer-to-peer trading application advances to the next round. Team iFrench makes up one of 300 semi-finalist teams, which is then cut down to six finalists teams. The final six teams were brought to San Francisco to formally present their business plan and demo their application.
In addition to the initial four teams, the final six teams from all over the world including from India, Nigeria, and the United States are profiled, with apps that range from a social feed focusing on positivity, a game that teaches water conservation, and a waste removal service used in a place where the government has no formal service.
The documentary breaks down problems with some of the current initiatives to get women involved in software development. One girl, from the California-based Team Woco, one of the finalists, personally stated why some initiatives for girls do not work.
“There would be articles writing about girls in technology or there would be seminars like specifically relating to ‘Girls, hey, come into technology,’ but I found what they tended to focus on was the cute factor, so every time they would have extraneous elements that detracted from coding, I feel like, or the ability of girls to code. So it really reinforced the idea that, hey girls are getting the coding, but they’re going to bring cookies into the mix or they’re going to bring yoga into the mix. Kinda of like pinkify coding?”
In this statement, this girl tackles a fundamental problem with some of the initiatives that are geared toward involving women in computer science. Some computer science initiatives are so focused on getting women involved that they focus on gender stereotypes in order to try to increase participation. By making this statement, this girl is saying that she just wants the chance to show that she can be taken seriously and that she is only judged based on her abilities as a developer and an entrepreneur, not her gender.
Another interesting statement in the film acts as a lightning rod into why girls are not as involved in computer science as men and was made by a girl also from Team Woco after mentioning that she had recently taught herself the Apple development language Swift.
“I think part of being a female programmer is that you feel really lonely. It’s really difficult to want to be what you can’t see, because everywhere you look you don’t really see a lot of girls and you can’t get really excited about it in front of other people because they don’t share the same interests.”
This girl is stating that in order for there to be more girls in computer science that there must be a more accepting and open community and hopefully that the community will have more girls. Initiatives like Technovation are fostering this type of community where women can come together and discuss the details of the industry as computer scientists, not cupcakes.
The CS department of UWG is contributing to this overall community with the establishment of the Computer Science Women of West Georgia (CS WoW), a club for women in computer science. CS WoW was established because UWG is not yet exempt from the national statistics that state that there are more men than women in computer science. CS WoW is thoroughly important because it allows for women to come together to do things exactly like Technovation, discuss the industry and build community. CS WoW is ran by UWG computer science professor Dr. Anja Remshagen.
As a computer science student, the field is not without difficulty, but that difficulty does not mean one gender is more apt to succeed than the other. The problem solving skills presented during the app creation in the film is the basis of the entire discipline. CodeGirl opens eyes to a profession that seems like complete wizardry into something everyone can do.