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As a Young Girl in 1981, Learning to Code Was One of the Best Things to Happen to Me


Jennifer Taylor, Vice President, U.S. Jobs, Consumer Technology Association (CTA)

When I was 11 years old, in 1981, my father came home with an Apple IIe desktop computer for our family to tinker around with. What motivated him to introduce his daughters to this bulky, complicated machine is still a mystery to me. My sister and I didn’t know what to make of the thing; we had no clue how it worked or what to do with it.

Looking back, however, this could be one of the best gifts Dad ever gave us. As I sat before this drab, ugly tan box, its black screen and blinking green cursor staring back at me, my curiosity took over and I found myself diving into the dry, boring manual that came with it. Before I even understood what I was doing, I was creating basic programs using commands such as “go to”, “if…then” and “run”, designing images comprised of large green pixels, and animating simple characters that moved around on my monitor. I was thinking critically, solving problems and employing my creative skills to make something of my own from scratch on a digital canvas. I saw it then as little more than a game but what I was doing, without even realizing it, was teaching myself how to code!

I had discovered an exciting new hobby; something to entertain myself when I wasn’t playing tennis, or cheerleading or going to the mall with my girlfriends. I was never phased by the stereotype that coding was just “for boys.” I just knew that I enjoyed it and it was fun.

Learning to code opened a whole new world for me.  I didn’t pursue a degree in computer science, but I’ve drawn on my own coding experience throughout my career.  Recently, when I worked at a tech startup on a product development team that created consumer mobile and web apps, I may not have been coding myself, but I was able to actively engage with software engineers and systems architects to benefit the team and help ensure our success. If I could draw on my own experience with a simple programming language, BASIC, from 35 years ago, can you just imagine what a 13 year old girl learning to code today in Java or AppleScript or Python is going to be doing in 2035?

In honor of International Women’s Day, I want us to be thinking about how we can get more young girls engaged in computer science and coding so that they, too, can have a chance to see for themselves how fun and rewarding these subjects are. By getting girls hooked on coding at a young age, our nation will be better equipped to supply the kinds of high-skilled, qualified tech workers that are in such critical demand. Further, we will empower women to pursue rewarding career opportunities as part of the tech workforce that they may not have otherwise considered. 

It is imperative that we get girls and women engaged with computer science as soon as possible, because the gender gap in computing jobs is widening dramatically. According to a research study from Accenture and Girls Who Code, in 1984, 37 percent of consumer science majors were women, but by 2014 that number has dropped in half to 18 percent. Furthermore, according to the National Center for Women in Information Technology, the percentage of women in IT and computing roles peaked in 1991 at 36 percent.  As of 2015, that number has declined to 25 percent and continues to fall.

Meanwhile, the computing industry is creating jobs at a rate of three times the national average and the demand for qualified workers to fill these jobs is high.  According to code.org, there are 486,000 open jobs in computer science, and only 46,000 people graduate with computer science degrees each year.  How many more graduates could we be producing yearly if we truly made an effort to make the professional IT environment more conducive to women’s success and get more women into coding?

In order to motivate girls and women to pursue high-tech careers, our schools have to do a better job of sparking an interest in coding and showing them how they can pursue a career in computing by making coding classes mandatory, just like English, math, and foreign languages, so that CompSci is no longer just “the class the boys take,” but something everyone learns. By mandating these classes at a young age, girls will not be shut out of future opportunities and will see the benefits of a career in computer science and the high annual salaries that they offer. And, as jobs continue to be automated with the increasing adoption of robotics and artificial intelligence, companies will grow their coding workforce, ensuring future job security.

Learning to code on that clunky old Apple IIe empowered me to do so many things in my career that I may not have even considered, otherwise. I hope every girl around the world will have the opportunity to learn how to code, as I believe the skills these girls can gain in the process are critical stepping stones for achieving success not only in the tech industry, but in the workforce in general.

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