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.