20 Graduations Later

Author: Madelaine Coelho, Code Camp Founder, Program Coordinator, and Proud Instructor

What has started as a reflection on another code camp milestone has predictably turned into a reflection on females in STEM. These experiences I faced are not unique and I would love to talk to any women at a high school and elementary level who have faced similar issues. This is an open call for young techies to reach out to me so we can share in the plights of females in STEM. 

As I wrap up what is my 20th Code Camp Graduation, I decided to reflect on what I have learned through the process of creating this program, learning to code (oddly enough in that order), and working with high school computer science volunteers. 

I learned about the plights of fourteen-year-old boys and the newest memes, I learned that I am no longer cool in high school standards, and I learned that children will continue to obsess over the marquee tag despite it being deprecated in HTML5. 

I also learned about the persistent environment facing young girls entering STEM programs. We see progress as more women are entering STEM fields but women are still being othered when they participate. The increase in participation on women is being seen as an improvement but when in reality, women are just becoming more resilient. I was naive in hoping that my negative experience in high school computer science class was unique and that times have changed in the short time since I have graduated. However, while working closely with one of the high school volunteers at Code Camp, the rhetoric in her classroom bears a striking resemblance. 

I remember my 16-year-old self and the constant devaluing of my work by my male peers. I remember being asked out to prom over five times in the classroom as if that was the only reason I enrolled.  I remember every failure being attributed to my sex and wanting to cry but not wanting the boys to see any weakness.  I remained in computer science for the advantages but just because I remained does not make the experiences any less detrimental to my confidence in my technological abilities. The unfortunate part of this tale is that most women in technology have a story like this to share. 

While society is growing and changing and progressing and all that jazz that warms my heart, the experiences of women in these fields are not improving nearly as fast as it should. While workplace efforts are attempting to rectify these situations, the depth of the disparity in tech lies within the experiences of these girls at an elementary, high school, and university level. We need to reflect on the values we portray to boys and how we communicate women's success in STEM fields. Always being deemed as a 'woman' web developer and the constant congratulations on being a woman in technology are counter-intuitive to the success of women in STEM. We need to create more inclusive programming that targets the specific needs of young girls. We need to ensure that women are given the opportunity to lead in these fields from a young age while ensuring that women are given the skills to even the playing field in technology. Most importantly, we need to connect more women in technology at a high school and elementary school level because knowing you are not alone is what is necessary to make it through. 


Tales of a Female Coder


By Madelaine Coelho

Today marks a first in Code Camp history.

Today, we have achieved a 50/50 gender split in Code Camp enrolment.



My journey with Code Camp began two years ago when I started teaching girls how to code. The intent of this program was to encourage and inspire young innovative minds, while teaching the fundamentals of computer science. When I began teaching this program, I knew that there was a huge gender gap in the field of computer science, and from my personal experience I felt that being “the only girl” in a male dominated class was quite intimidating. While having the opportunity to develop my own program here at Arcane, I knew it was important to ease this intimation and provide girls with a competitive edge. One of my personal goals for the Arcane Code Camp program is not only to inspire young, innovative minds, but to also help build female coding and computer literacy confidence.


Over the span of a year, I individually taught over 50 girls. This opened my eyes to the importance in teaching children and adolescents tangible skills. We expect so much of the upcoming generation, with all the opportunities they have in technology however, we don’t always provide them with the skills to fully comprehend or grasp the technology they use. Computer science can lead the ability to harness a strong technological sense, and it’s my goal to have Arcane Code Camp accomplish this.


Let’s back track to May 2015, when I put my pursuit of gender equality in the technological fields on the backburner and focused my attention towards the cause of providing children with the opportunity to learn how to code. During the registration period, I noticed that the number of females enrolled at Arcane Code Camp was low, while the male registration numbers skyrocketed. At the time I viewed the glass half full, and was proud of the full enrolment, opposed to the gender disparity right in front of me. It wasn’t until we were closer to the first day of programing that I realized we were beginning a full session with no female interest. This shook me and quickly redirected my attention towards my original initiative - getting females to code.


As a female in a computer science who endured negative comments such “girls don’t know how to code”, “she can’t make anything cool”, and “I don’t think she knows what she’s doing,” (all of which are very inaccurate statements), I realized that I can not wait for change to come. It is I, myself that will need to pave the way. So I decided to act. I reached out to a number of my computer science teachers, professors and instructors, asking them to encourage, any bright young females who are interested in technology and computers, to pursue Arcane Code Camp. I contacted female students in leadership roles at Western University, to help spread the word and gain a competitive edge. Slowly, through networking and sharing my computer science knowledge to others, I began to see the female enrolment rise.


So here we are, September 2016 and eight terms of Code Camp later, I have finally witnessed the enrolment I have been striving for - a 50/50 gender split. I know that by reaching out and inspiring the young women of today will tap into the 50% of voices in technology we are lacking in society, and I couldn’t be more proud. I strongly encourage you to reaching out to the young, bright girls in your life, and make sure they have confidence to approach technology opportunities as they arise.


Over the last two years, I have gained the confidence to reach out, ask questions, and focus on a skill I am passionate about. All of these opportunities have led me to where I am today – starting as an Arcane Code Camp programmer, to now, a Front-End Web Developer on the Arcane Web Development Team - and I couldn’t be happier.




Life Lessons from a Computer Science Course

By Madelaine Coelho 

"What can coding offer for my child who doesn't want to get into computer science?" is something I often get asked by parents. 

Short Answer: More than you think. 

Long Answer: Problem Solving, Critical Thinking, and Control. 

Skill 1: Problem Solving 

Problem solving is a skill that is deeply rooted in the field of computer science. A coder rarely completes a project without a 'bug'. This bug is an error in their code that makes a program not run as expected. I myself have crossed many paths with hundreds of bugs, however, as much as a bug is the enemy, it is one that is a natural part of the coding process. A bug is not just a challenge coders face in computer programming but is an everyday reality that we come across in a variety of situations. However, a coder will never shut down when faced with a bug. We approach the problem directly with a 'bring it on' mentality. This is what we want to instill in our code camp teachings. When our students come across their own bug, we want to teach them the skills to sharpen their ability to troubleshoot and solve problems. A confident outlook to everyday problem solving is an advantage of learning how to code. 

Skill 2: Critical Thinking

Computer Science requires step-by-step thinking, unique in it's field. It's a combination of creative thought and pragmatic thinking, which leads to a creative outlook unparalleled by those without a computer science education. When prompted with the question: "how do you make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich?"most would reply with "you put jam and peanut butter on two slices of bread, put them together and eat it." While this is correct, this is not a computer science approach. Programmers would think of the answer as: "first, take a single slice of bread out of its package. To do this you must take the bread out of the bag by removing the bread tie in a twisting motion. Lay out each individual piece of bread side by side, then grab the container of jam. In one hand hold the jam tightly and in the dominant hand grip the jar while turning it counter clockwise. This will prop open the jar..." This could go on forever, however the point is clear. A computer science way of thinking requires such a unique way of thinking. Students who learn how to program gain a deeper and more complete understanding of the logic and advanced thinking behind a problem. Programming offers a contrasting way of analyzing a situation, which overall improves critical thinking.  

Skill 3: Control 

By understanding how the world connects, you are awarded a sense of control over your life. While the world becomes more and more technology reliant, individuals maintain less control over their life. Let's think about how long you can go without technology today versus 5 years ago - probably not very long. With the ability to manipulate this technology, that is offered by computer science, you will now gain control over the technology in your life, which is pretty satisfying. 

While breadth of experience, competitive edge, and a strong technological presence become more and more important in today's society; it becomes essential for a child to expose themselves to the world of technology.