“If you ask them if they want to work at Snapchat or Instagram, they say yes. So their view of what working in tech means is not correct. But if they close doors early on in their lives, that has implications for the opportunities they have later in life,” she says.
Coding: Put It in Their Fingertips
While EAK teaches kids to type “real code, so it can never be on a phone,” according to Saigal, one big change in the new breed of coding apps for kids is that many of them are mobile-first. Which already makes them more tween- and teen-girl-friendly. (Female gamers tend to play 25 percent longer than men when playing on their phones.)
As John says of Hopscotch, which lets you create on mobile (and on the iPad), this is “super important because that’s the computer that kids actually want to use.”
Another mobile-first coding app founded from a desire to get more young women interested in computing comes from Stockholm-based, female-led imagiLabs, a coding community and social network launched in 2018.
The iOS app gets kids coding in Python in a gamified way, for free, using a character called an “imagiGhost,” who teaches them to make pixel art. There’s also a smart coding accessory: the $93 imagiCharm, which features 64 LED squares in an 8 x 8 matrix, which can be attached to a backpack.
The company sent us one to test, which my 8-year-old has been playing with. When I asked her how the coding was going one day, she asserted, with an eye roll: “This isn’t coding. It’s really fun; I’m changing colors and making art.”
Reframing what coding can look like is exactly what imagiLabs’ founders are trying to do, and it might just be essential in attracting a new generation of coders.
Coding and Community
The social side of these services is important as well. imagiLabs and Hopscotch both act as social networks of sorts, encouraging kids to share their own games with one another, as well as helping and chatting to other users.
Programs through Girls Who Code and UK-based Stemettes can be pivotal in breaking down barriers to entry for tweens and teens, as well as encouraging those who have been historically underrepresented in computer science to give it a try, through free coding sessions, workshops, camps and mentorship schemes for girls and nonbinary students. These initiatives help highlight female role models in the industry, while also making a case for the role that peers can play in igniting those first sparks of interest in computing.
“I never really got that into it until I met other people who liked it as well,” says 17-year-old Annabel Lowe from London, a member of the Stemette Society, a platform where people post opportunities, meet other like-minded students, learn about events on topics like cybersecurity and more. “I think that really helped me, finding a community of people who coded and encouraged me to push myself and do it more. I think having other people your age is such a big thing in coding. Boys who may be the same age as me are interested in coding very different things,”