Last month’s Festival of Code 2015 (FOC) showed off the imagination, creativity and coding talent of the nation’s youth, and also boasted a best ever participation rate for girls.
Strategic Internet Consulting was part of Horsham’s first FOC mentoring centre and, what’s more, one of our teams – made up entirely of seven- and eight-year-old girls – made the national final in Birmingham.
Here eight-year-old Maddie, a member of the triumphant team, tells us why coding is a great hobby for girls, while below her dad, Strategic director Alex, explains why getting girls into coding is key to closing the yawning digital skills gap.
This was my first time at the Festival of Code and I loved every minute of it! The instruction was to make something digital – a website, game or app – within a week and, after a bit of time mulling over ideas, my teammates Emily, Charlotte and I came up with the Intelligent Elephant Alarm Clock.
We called it that because it’s the alarm clock that, like an elephant, never forgets! It gets information from the internet about the weather, temperature and lots of other things that might be interesting (for example, when the One Direction (RIP) concert tickets you’ve been waiting for have finally been released!), and buzzes you at the right time. The Intelligent Elephant Alarm Clock made it through to the finals in the ‘Should be Made’ category, and TechCrunch called it ‘one to watch’! You can watch the presentation here.
We were really pleased because we were up against so many other great projects. There were 202 altogether, made by 12,000 kids in 69 locations, so to reach the finals (and meet Dallas Campbell!) was fantastic.
I don’t think being girls gave us an advantage, but it wasn’t a problem either. We were the only girls in the Horsham centre and only about a third of all the people who took part in FOC15 were girls, but those who took part really showed that it’s not just something for boys. I loved coming up with ideas, learning new skills and thinking through problems step by step, to come up with an answer that worked. That’s what coding seems to be about to me and there’s no reason girls can’t enjoy it and be really good at it.
I wouldn’t even say I was coding-mad or desperate to do it before FOC. But making the Intelligent Elephant Alarm Clock and seeing all the other amazing projects made me think about where great ideas come from and how they get turned into real things. If more of us girls don’t join in, everyone is missing out on a lot of amazing ideas. Maybe some of them might change the world.
The main reason I wanted Maddie to participate in FOC 2015 is that coming up with ideas and then making them happen is rewarding, instils self-confidence, brings a sense of teamwork – and is loads of fun!
But there’s a bigger picture too, and one which made the best ever FOC participation rate for girls so important. Girls still only made up 32% of team members, but that’s a big rise on earlier years. We know that founder Emma Mulqueeny is a huge advocate of getting girls into coding and has done an incredible job attracting more girls to the competition.
But people like Emma and Code First Girls work against a pretty depressing backdrop. At Google, women make up 30% of the company's overall workforce, but hold only 17 percent of the company’s tech jobs. In the mid-1980s, 37% of computer science majors were women; in 2012, 18%.
Those aren’t just abstract statistics to us here at Strategic. As an Inbound Marketing and open source web design agency located between London and Brighton, two huge centres of tech innovation, we’re more aware than many of the digital skills shortage and understand the need to get young people interested earlier. We’ve had some brilliant interns, and (like Emma) recognise that “year 8 is too late” when it comes to starting down the path to a coding career.
And if there is one obvious way to bridge the skills gap, it’s to get more girls excited about coding. Our industry desperately needs to attract more young people who possess that winning mix of creative imagination and digital skills. By giving more girls than ever a fun, friendly and exciting introduction to coding, FOC15 made a start. The rest of us need to build on that foundation.
Strategic’s Festival of Code infographic: Teaching Kids To Code Is Key To Tech's Future
Alex Embling is the Director of Strategic Internet Consulting, a B2B Inbound Marketing and web design agency based in Horsham, Sussex. Strategic have experience across a wide range of industries, and are HubSpot Silver, and Google Partners.
Code First: Girls