I think the first time I really played with coding was on Neopets. I was about 12 years old and I didn’t know it was called “code” - just that it was HTML and it made the wallpapers of my personal pages look sweet as hell. Then I moved on to bigger and better things (aka wasting my life away on Facebook) and forgot all about my days of messing around with the cool layout of the internet.
When I first heard about Girls Who Code, I was totally impressed by how involved girls were getting in the tech world and all of the amazingly intense stuff they were turning out. Apps? Web pages? These girls were doing it all!! When I learned they could do it all using scripts, like HTML, it took a few solid minutes to completely process that the stuff I used to post my name in purple glitter on Neopets was the same language used to create REAL applications and functions.
So when I had the opportunity to attend another AOL BUILD talk featuring their own Girls Who Code interns, I jumped at the invitation. For 7 weeks, 5 high-school age girls were working a 9 to 5 schedule centered around revamping an AOL platform, Cambio. They sat down to talk about what they’ve learned and how Girls Who Code (@ AOL) has impacted their view of computer science/STEM work.
But first, let’s meet the girls:
Top Row (L to R): Roxy, Michelle, Lily; Bottom Row (L to R): Natasha, Nikki
- Natasha Driver, hailing from the Bronx, is 16 and coded with GWC’s program at IAC last summer. A self-proclaimed Vine lover, she has the strongest handle on social media (with a little added sass, of course).
- 17 year-old Nikki Allen also comes from the Bronx, where her high school chemistry teacher encouraged her to get into coding after excelling with her scientific skills. A real math and science buff, she is witty and interested in a future with internet security.
- Roxy Banik, a rising freshman at CUNY: City University of Queens, started playing with code when helping design her friend’s tumblr page. She applied to GWC from there, and has been described as the inherent leader within the group, always stepping up to the plate.
- Michelle Polton-Simon, from Chelsea, always felt she was the only girl that was super interested in comic books, video games, and the like. Joining the robotics club in middle school ignited her interest in coding, which brought her to GWC. She loves everything from theater and set design to making clothes.
- Lily Yuan, a rising freshman at Stonybrook University, began looking for opportunities to explore computer science and STEM outside of her school offerings and was totally entranced by the logic puzzles on GWC’s application. She quickly became the most proficient coder within the group and would often stay after to debug codes and jump on new challenges.
Their whole summer revolved around two main goals: the recreation of Cambio, the AOL platform that currently focuses on celebrity gossip & news, and #builtbygirls, a new social media campaign.
The new premise behind Cambio is that it is now a site for girls, built by girls. The girls both developed and created the two main functionalities the site will host: a inspirational meme generator and a contributor network.
Lily described the meme generator as a way to choose quotes and images that one thinks are inspiring and to crank them out in the form of a meme. The contributor network, however, is a more of a Thought Catalog-style community for girls to write about whatever it is that interests them and to find others that feel the same way. Roxy expressed the sentiment that as a girl without an older sister-figure in her life, she had questions she wanted to talk about but didn’t know how; she hopes that Cambio will provide this space for girls to explore themselves and their interests in a safe and supportive way.
When the girls were asked what #builtbygirls meant to them, they all had their own take on the hashtag campaign. For Nikki, #builtbygirls is the celebration of anything a girl feels accomplished about, no matter if it’s a tangible project or a personal goal. Michelle sees the hashtag as a way of saying “Hey world!! I am proud of being a girl and proud of doing something about my interests/goals!!”
At the end of the session, we were asked to use #builtbygirls to share the accomplishments of all the women in our lives to start a larger conversation. If your little sister did something cool at school, share it! If your friend reached a milestone in her workplace, put it on Instagram!!
By getting involved at AOL, the girls all learned something about their ability to make changes in their STEM workplace. Roxy noted that AOL gave them total control over their projects; if she didn’t like something and wanted to change it, she made it happen. Natasha found that in her work with Lindsey Stirling, she discovered there were emotional and inspirational stories everywhere that need to be shared (like the contributor network). Lily echoed the idea that they were all fearless and could learn to do pretty much anything if they tried.
It’s evident that what they together learned shines through their work with Cambio: by treating girls like the respected individuals they are and sharing their stories so that all girls are both fearless and inspired.
AOL BUILD’s speaker series definitely struck gold with these ladies. GWC, which plans to commit 1 million girls to coding programs by 2020, reminds you that (not-so) ordinary girls can do the very extraordinary. In fact, I find honest talks like these to be much more genuine and fascinating (save your breath, old dudes with money! I want to hear about some new experiences!).
Thankfully, BUILD’s whole series is based around this idea - check out some of their events here.
Keep your eye out for Cambio’s new GWC features, debuting in mid-October, and start sharing with #builtbygirls today! You can follow the girls' twitter account here, @Cambio_GWC.
All images via Gino DePinto, AOL BUILD